The Supreme Court on Friday handed down its much-awaited judgement in the Imran Khan, Jahangir Tareen disqualification case, rejecting Hanif Abbasi's petition for Khan's disqualification but disqualifying Jahangir Tareen for being "dishonest".
The verdict was announced in Courtroom No. 1 by a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Nisar, Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Faisal Arab.
'Imran not out'
The chief justice, reading out the judgement in the packed courtroom, said the court had found that Khan was not liable to declare offshore company Niazi Services Ltd in his 2013 nomination papers as he was not a shareholder or director of the company.
The court's detailed judgement noted that the money trail provided by Imran Khan sufficiently covered the Bani Gala property's purchase price, the funds provided by Jemima Goldsmith, Khan's ex-wife, and the proceeds from the sale of Khan's apartment in London.
The court held that the Bani Gala property was Khan's property; he had bought the land for his family, but was gifted the property by his ex-wife, Jemima Khan, after their separation, the chief justice remarked while reading the judgement.
'Tareen was dishonest'
The bench found PTI secretary general Jahangir Tareen to be dishonest under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution and Section 99 of Representation of People Act (ROPA) on one count among the multiple charges brought against him.
Article 62(1)(f) — which sets the precondition for the head of government to be "sadiq and ameen" (truthful and honest) — had led to the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif from holding public office in the July 28 judgement on the Panama Papers case.
"The respondent [Tareen] is disqualified in terms of Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution read with Section 99(1)(f) of ROPA for the non-declaration of his property/asset i.e. 'Hyde House' in his nomination papers, and in making untrue statement before this Court, that he has no beneficial interest in SVL [offshore company]; therefore, he should cease to hold the office as the member of the National Assembly with immediate effect," read the judgement.
The judgement noted that Tareen may have committed the offence of insider trading, but could not be judged for having committed a crime because of the terms of his settlement with the Securities and Exchange Corporation of Pakistan (SECP). The court also stated that the matter had been closed by the SECP after Tareen paid a fine, and so could not be used as a grounds to disqualify him.
On the matter of alleged misrepresentation and short payment of agricultural income tax by Tareen, the court said it would not issue a declaration on it because the matter was currently sub judice in multiple courts.
The court also said it was not convinced that Tareen had been involved in acquiring loans and having them written off for his benefit, which would have demonstrated dishonesty. It noted that the loans acquired by FPML allegedly written off by Tareen were actually written off in 2010, before Tareen was even a shareholder or director of the company. Therefore, he could not be held responsible for it.
Read: What is insider trading?
The SC directed that the foreign funding case against PTI as a party be investigated by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), as Abbasi had no locus standi to pursue it.
"It is the responsibility of the ECP to look at the foreign funding case in detail," Justice Nisar said.
The court ruled that the ECP should, for the sake of impartiality, look into the foreign funds of the party over the preceding five-year period only.
Delay in verdict
The CJ said that the delay in the verdict, which was announced more than an hour late in Courtroom No.1, was due to a mistake on one page. "We had to go through the entire 250-page document," he explained, apologizing for the delay.
He asked that the verdict be heard with patience.
Petitioner Abbasi as well as other members of PML-N — including Talal Chaudhry and Maryam Aurungzeb — were present in the court.
Neither Imran Khan — currently in Karachi — nor Tareen were in attendance.
Strict security arrangements were made for today's verdict. At least 900 security officers were stationed outside the court, with 300 more deployed inside.
Courtroom No. 1 was last in the limelight when a five-judge SC bench comprising Justices Asif Saeed Khosa, Gulzar Ahmed, Ejaz Afzal Khan, Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Ijaz-ul-Ahsan disqualified Nawaz Sharif as prime minister in the Panama Papers case.
The petition, filed by Abbasi in November 2016, accuses the two PTI leaders of not declaring their assets to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and seeks their disqualification based on alleged violations of the lncome Tax Ordinance 1979 and Representation of Peoples Act 1974.
On May 3, amidst a heightened political backdrop, a three-member bench of the apex court had begun hearing the petition.
During the length of the case, the lawyers from both sides had presented their arguments for over 100 hours and referred to 73 different cases as precedent, DawnNews reported. After more than 50 court hearings, the verdict was reserved on November 14.
Abbasi's petition had sought the PTI leaders’ disqualification under charges of false declaration before the ECP, non-disclosure of assets in offshore companies, and for being a foreign-funded party.
The petiton had aruged that by failing to disclose the existence of "Niazi Services Limited" — an off-shore company allegedly owned by the PTI chairman — to the ECP, Khan stands in violation of the Income Tax Ordinance of 1979.
Additionally, Abbasi had claimed that the 'off-shore company' has consistently been submitting its financial documents to the relevant authorities in the Channel Islands, where the company is said to be based.
Abbasi had maintained that Imran Khan failed to formally declare his 'off-shore company' to authorities in Pakistan and opines that Khan's intention to establish the off-shore company, which was dissolved in October 2015, was rooted in tax evasion.
Furthermore, Abbasi had argued that Imran Khan failed to disclose to the ECP his Rs2.97 million purchase of a luxury apartment in the capital city of Islamabad. That, he had argued, is a violation of the Peoples Act of 1974 and can result in the dismissal of PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
Questions posed to Imran's lawyer
Throughout the proceedings of the case, Khan's lawyer Advocate Naeem Bukhari was questioned by the apex bench on various matters, specifically the money trail for PTI chief's flat in London and his Banigala property.
In one of the hearings, Advocate Bukhari was questioned over Khan's failure to declare the London flat as an asset. He had told the court that the flat was not declared as it was located outside of Pakistan.
Over several hearings, the court had sought clarity from Khan's lawyer with regards to the PTI chief's Banigala residence, questioning where the money for it had come from and if Khan had accepted a loan or a gift from his former wife, Jemima Khan, to purchase the property.
During the course of the hearing, the bench had also asked for the account details of Niazi Services Limited (NSL), Khan's offshore company, that was dissolved in 2015
Tareen's land and off-shore company
The court had raised questions pertaining to Tareen's 18,500 acres of land, which his lawyer had argued was leased and not owned. The lawyer had attempted to explain why his client had not declared the land is his election forms and had made the distinction between land owned by his client and that which was leased as the basis for his defence.
Several hearings had also focused on Tareen's offshore company, Shiny View Limited, established under British Virgin Islands laws in 2011. The company owned a residential property in Berkshire, UK, for the use of his four children, who were beneficial owners of the property, Tareen's lawyer had told the court.