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THE BALANCING ACT

December 16, 2017

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PAKISTAN Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan gestures during a media talk in Karachi on Friday and (right) Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb along with other government officials speaking to journalists outside the apex court in Islamabad after the judgement was announced.—Reuters/INP
PAKISTAN Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan gestures during a media talk in Karachi on Friday and (right) Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb along with other government officials speaking to journalists outside the apex court in Islamabad after the judgement was announced.—Reuters/INP

• SC clears Imran, disqualifies Tareen for life
• Refers foreign funding allegations to ECP
• PTI to file review petition

ISLAMABAD: It was a verdict where either side could be forgiven for distributing sweetmeats: in a near-perfect balancing act, the Supreme Court on Friday absolved Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan of all allegations of corruption, but disqualified his aide and confidant, party’s secretary general Jahangir Khan Tareen, under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution.

The latter, in fact, fell prey to the same provision under which former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was recently declared ineligible to hold any public office.

Moving swiftly, the Elec­tion Commission of Pakistan (ECP) de-notified Tareen as a member of the National Assembly from NA-154 (Lodhran-I), with immediate effect.

But the PTI’s stance, since the decision was announced, has been that the party would move a review petition and ask the apex court to reconsider its decision to disqualify Mr Tareen.

The decision was announced in a packed-to-capacity Courtroom No 1 by a three-judge bench, consisting of Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Faisal Arab. The pronouncement of the eagerly-awaited judgement was delayed by over an hour, as the bench assembled at 3:20pm, inst­ead of 2pm, as scheduled.

Though both Mr Khan and Mr Tareen were conspicuous by their absence, other PTI leaders thronged the courtroom.

But before the announcement of verdicts on the petitions filed by local Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Hanif Abbasi, the chief justice regretted the delay in the pronouncement of the verdict, saying that a

typographical error in the judgement had necessitated that all three judges go through the entire order again, causing a delay.

Although he expressed the hope that the verdict would be heard silently without any reaction, slogans were quite audible inside the courtroom the moment the chief justice exonerated Mr Khan.

On Constitution Avenue, outside the apex court, sloganeering workers from both PML-N and PTI competed with each other, but no untoward incident was reported.

Authored by the chief justice, the 130-page judgement referred the allegation of the PTI being a foreign-funded party — since it received donations from prohibited sources — to the ECP for determination under the Political Parties Order.

Since this allegation could only be levelled by the federal government through a reference sent to the apex court, the petitioner had no locus standi in the matter, the verdict said.

It was the duty of the ECP to scrutinise the accounts of political parties and it must act transparently, fairly and justly, without discrimination among different political parties, the order said.

The bench directed the commission to examine the accounts of a political party within five years of the objected accounts of that party having been published in the official gazette.

“There is no dishonesty in the omission made by Imran Khan, as a result there is no merit in the petition [against him], which is accordingly dismissed,” the chief justice observed.

On Mr Khan’s offshore company, Niazi Services Limited (NSL), the Supreme Court said it was established as a corporate vehicle to obtain the legal ownership of the Draycott flat in London, adding that the PTI chief was neither a shareholder, nor a director in NSL.

This asset held by NSL was declared by Mr Khan under the Tax Amnesty Scheme, therefore he was under no legal obligation to disclose the corporate vehicle as an asset, either in the income tax returns or his statement of assets and liabilities filed with the ECP.

On the palatial Banigala property, the verdict said that of the purchase price of Rs43.5 million, Rs7.3 million was paid by Mr Khan, while the difference was paid through amounts converted from foreign currency remittances sent by his ex-wife, Jemima Khan.

Between April 2002 and Jan 2003, Jemima provided 417,901 pounds, while Mr Khan repaid her 562,415 pounds on May 7, 2003 from the sale proceeds of his London flat.

The apex court held that Mr Khan’s flat in the One Constitution Avenue highrise had been declared in both, his statement of assets and liabilities filed alongside his income tax return in 2015 as well as his annual returns filed with the ECP.

Tareen’s disqualification

The court observed that failure to declare the 12-acre Hyde House in his nomination papers, and the statement of untruths that he had no beneficial interest in the property, had led to Mr Tareen’s disqualification.

The verdict explained that the PTI leader was the actual beneficial owner of Hyde House, since he spent over Rs500 million on the purchase and construction of the property. Neither his offshore company, Shiny View Limited, nor the Hyde House property, was ever transferred to a trust, making it an asset that he failed to declare in his nomination papers, filed on Sept 9, 2015 to contest by-elections from NA-154 (Lodhran), the judgement said.

Therefore, Mr Tareen was not honest in terms of Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution, read with Section 99(1)(f) of the Representation of Peoples act (Ropa). Besides, in his concise statement, the respondent had clearly stated that he had no beneficial interest in the trust arrangement, but in a May 5, 2011 trust deed placed before the court by Mr Tareen himself, he was the ‘discretionary lifetime beneficiary’ along with his spouse.

This was a blatant misstatement on the part of Mr Tareen, made before the highest judicial forum of the country, which was not a trait of an honest person, the court regretted.

Consequently, on both counts Mr Tareen was declared “not honest” in terms of the constitutional provisions.

Referring to ‘insider trading’ allegations, the Supreme Court held that the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) never criminally prosecuted Mr Tareen, and for all intents and purposes, the episode was a past and closed transaction.

Similarly, regarding short payments of agricultural income tax in 2010 and 2011, the court held that no action had been taken against Mr Tareen by the tax authorities so far. The bench also dismissed the allegations that Mr Tareen got loans written off from various banks.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2017