The Supreme Court on Tuesday continued to press the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on why the apex court should allow for the Rs1.2 billion Hudaibya Paper Mills reference to be reopened.
A three-judge SC bench — comprising Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel — was hearing the appeal against a 2014 decision of the Lahore High Court to quash the reference.
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Alam asked the NAB prosecutor to satisfy the court on reasons as to why the bureau waited until now to file the appeal for reopening the case — three years after the high court's ruling.
Deputy prosecutor Imranul Haq then read out the pleadings of the Supreme Court-sanctioned Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on the Hudaibya case, saying that the JIT had recommended reopening the reference because the money trail of Sharif family is allegedly linked with the mills.
On SC's orders, the JIT had examined the cases registered against the Sharif family at the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and NAB, he said.
NAB deputy prosecutor told the court that the record shows the Sharif family started money laundering in September 1991.
Ishaq Dar's confession recorded under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) shows how the money laundering was conducted, said Haq.
Initially, accounts had been opened in the name of Saeed Ahmed and Mukhtar Hussain, he said, adding that Dar had accepted the opening of fake accounts in his confession.
Justice Alam, however, told the prosecutor that the bureau had been asked to read only the majority judgement in the Panama Papers case. During Monday's hearing, the court had 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.
"Were there instructions regarding Hudaibya [reference] in the Panama judgement?" Justice Alam asked on Tuesday, to which the lawyer replied that it was not mentioned in the final order.
Justice Alam questioned how the Panamagate judgement could be linked with the Hudaibya case.
The prosecutor said that the decision to file an appeal had been taken in a high-level meeting of NAB board following the Panamagate verdict. He argued that the LHC had based its verdict to quash the reference on technical grounds.
"The JIT has provided its opinion — tell us what the incriminating element [of the case] is," Justice Isa said the prosecutor, reiterating the court's earlier stance for the prosecutor to prove his case without referring to the Panama Papers case.
"Is it possible that the case relates to income tax law?" he asked.
Under what law can Dar's confession [from the year 2000] be used against somebody in the court, Justice Isa asked while Justice Alam inquired whether the former finance minister's statement had been counter-checked.
"Ishaq Dar's confession had been verified," the prosecutor replied, seeking permission to read the confession in court.
"[The court] is not interested in Ishaq Dar's life — present your own case," Justice Isa told the prosecutor, later allowing him to read the statement in court.
The judge, however, asked for other evidence besides Dar's confession, questioning what incentive Dar could have had to support the Sharif family's alleged corruption.
Dar gained political advantage in exchange for working for the Sharif family, the prosecution claimed.
Justice Isa observed that as per the law, Dar's confession should have been recorded before a court or the NAB chairman.
He asked the prosecutor to argue on the evidence leading to the Sharif family's money trail gathered before and after the formation of the JIT.
Justice Alam said that the court was not in a hurry and would move on to the merits of the case once the issue of the delay in filing the appeal is covered.
"Law is the same for everyone," Justice Alam concluded.
The hearing of the case was adjourned until 11:30am on Wednesday (tomorrow).
Hudaibya Paper Mills case
The 2000 Hudaibya Paper Mills money laundering reference was initiated on the basis of an April 25, 2000 confession statement from Ishaq Dar, wherein he admitted to his role in laundering money to the tune of $14.86 million on behalf of the Sharifs through fictitious accounts.
The witness was, however, pardoned by the then NAB chairman.
LHC referee judge Justice Sardar Shamim had quashed the reference on March 11, 2014 on the grounds that if a re-investigation was allowed against the Sharif family, it would provide an opportunity to investigators to pad up lacunas.
The LHC had quashed the case as the PML-N continued to claim that Dar's statement was taken under duress.
NAB had controversially decided not to challenge the high court’s decision.
While Nawaz was not named in the interim reference filed in March 2000, in the final reference against the Hudaibya Paper Mills — approved by then chairman NAB Khalid Maqbool — the bureau had accused Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Abbas Sharif, Hussain Nawaz, Hamza Shahbaz, Shamim Akhtar, Sabiha Abbas and Maryam Nawaz.