ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court bench hearing the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) appeal in the Rs1.2 billion Hudaibya Paper Mills reference on Monday asked the bureau not to ‘parrot’ the Panama Papers judgement, rather articulate its own reasons to convince the bench why the reference originally filed against the Sharifs in the year 2000 should be resurrected.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench, consisting of Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, also rejected NAB’s plea to postpone the hearing until the vacancy of prosecutor general is filled, saying that this was no grounds for an adjournment.

If no prosecutor can argue, then why shouldn’t the NAB chairman be summoned, the court observed.

Last Saturday, NAB had moved an application asking for an adjournment until the appointment of a new prosecutor general, in view of the importance of the case.

At the same time, the Supreme Court banned TV talk shows from discussing the merits or demerits of the Hudaibya case and ordered the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to ensure that its directions were implemented.

Judge warns prosecutor not to ‘parrot’ minority judgement; says bureau’s plea amounts to ‘attack on own institution’

Pemra then issued directives to all private television channels not to air any live shows on the Hudaibya case, cautioning that violations would compel the authority to proceed against the channels concerned under the Pemra Ordinance 2002. However, news on the basis of factual reporting of the court proceedings could be aired, but no analysis and discussion could be conducted, the notification said.

On Monday, Special Prosecutor Imranul Haq repeatedly referred to the Panama Papers case and tried to read out the opinion of Justice Asif Saeed Khosa in the Hudaibya matter, saying that it was the apex court’s opinion that the reference had a direct nexus with Panamagate. He contended that all issues relating to Hudaibya had already been dealt with by the five-judge Supreme Court bench that handed down the disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

But Justice Isa reminded the prosecutor that he was referring to a minority view, which was not the final order of the court.

When the prosecutor recalled that the Joint investigation Team (JIT), which was appointed by the Supreme Court, had mentioned the Hudaibya reference in the second volume of its report, but when he was asked to read the July 28 verdict, the prosecutor conceded that the court had simply observed that it would look into the matter whenever NAB filed an appeal.

Even if the court assumes that the prosecutor’s argument is correct, it would have automatically resurrected the reference instead of hearing the bureau’s appeal, Justice Isa, observed adding that reliance on a minority judgment could make the appeal redundant.

Justice Alam also observed that the minority opinion could, at the most, only arm NAB with some arguments. But this was not binding upon the court, he observed, asking whether any other member of the five-judge bench had also said anything about Hudaibya.

When the prosecutor highlighted that one of the directions sought by Imran Khan in his petition in the Panama Papers case was that NAB be directed to file an appeal in the case, Justice Isa cautioned the prosecutor that he would be put on notice if he mentioned the minority judgement once more.

The court was also surprised to learn that not only was an interim reference filed on March 27, 2000 before an accountability court, but a final reference followed on Nov 17, 2000. When asked to explain if there was any material difference between the two, the prosecutor said there was none apart from a minor change making Ishaq Dar an approver. He also said that the second reference was filed because an investigation was still ongoing.

Then why the haste in filing the reference, when the investigation had not been completed, Justice Miankhel wondered. The court also asked what new evidence was there against the Sharifs that would justify a decision to reopen the reference.

The prosecutor argued that four fictitious accounts were opened between 1993 and 1998 in the name of the Qazi family to launder money, but the court observed that those who transfer black money usually never open bank accounts. When asked whether the bank manager was also made a party in the case, since the accounts could not have been opened without his connivance, the prosecutor said the bank’s officers were witnesses in the case.

Justice Isa repeatedly asked for any substance proving the commission of corruption by the accused, adding that NAB came to know about the allegations from the company’s own balance sheet, and that at the most, this matter fell within the realm of income tax law.

During the hearing, Justice Isa regretted that the then-government was resisting the return of Nawaz Sharif, the main accused in the Hudaibya reference, though the latter had wanted to return to the country.

The court was also not happy with NAB’s failure to arrest the deposed prime minister when he returned to country in 2007, as well as the fact that it never asked the concerned court to force the accused to appear before it.

“Why did NAB favour the accused by letting them go into exile when they were facing a plane hijacking case in Karachi?” The court also asked under what law was Attock Fort declared a sub-jail to confine Nawaz Sharif, where the helicopter reference against him was heard.

Justice Isa also cautioned the NAB prosecutor that their plea had a very dangerous consequence and amounted to an attack on his very institution.

“It undermines the credibility of your own institution and is therefore dangerous,” Justice Isa observed asking again whether NAB was stating that if the Supreme Court had said nothing in the Panama Papers case, the bureau would have done nothing.

The court will resume hearing on the appeal today (Tuesday).

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2017