The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan on Friday released its detailed judgement on a petition seeking the reopening of the long-dormant Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference, stating that it had dismissed the case as the reference had exceeded its expiry date and that the matter had died its death while it was being dragged through various courts for years.
Most importantly, it also made it clear that — contrary to a widely-held belief — neither the Panama Papers case joint investigation team, nor Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had ever issued any explicit directions for the reopening of the Hudaibiya reference.
This had been an important sticking point during the hearing of the petition, with the judges repeatedly telling the prosecutor in the case "not to parrot from the Panamagate verdict" without understanding it.
The reference, which named several defendants — including Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif — had been filed in 2000 against the accused's alleged operation of benami overseas accounts in 1990. However, the National Accountability Bureau failed to pursue it rigorously and the case was dismissed by the Lahore High Court in 2011 after being adjourned repeatedly.
The SC's judgement states that the dismissal of the case was a well-founded decision as the reference had by then gone well beyond its expiry date. And while a high court judge later ordered a fresh probe into the case, the SC said the judge had weak grounds to do so.
"In this case we have come to the painful conclusion that respondents 1 to 9 were denied due process. The legal process was abused by keeping the reference pending indefinitely and unreasonably. The said respondents were denied the right to vindicate themselves. The reference served no purpose but to oppress them. We have also noted with grave concern the lack of commitment and earnestness on part of NAB at the relevant time," the court noted.
Penned by Justice Qazi Faiz Essa, the detailed judgement also stated that the NAB chairman seems to have done nothing in the last four years to pursue the case. Admonishing the corruption watchdog's dilly-dallying on the matter, the court stated that the case seems to have been kept pending for an indefinite period, which was "an insult to the legal process."
The Hudaibiya case practically died its death in the accountability court, the SC remarked, while noting that the NAB had filed an appeal after a 1,229-day delay, and never provided any solid reason for why it dragged the matter out for so long.
The court also dismissed NAB's defence that Nawaz and Shahbaz had themselves been responsible for the delay in the case being pursued: a claim the court said it had found to be contrary to the facts.
The decision further said the Sharif family was deprived of their rights to defend themselves and that the purpose of the reference seems to have been just to pressurise the accused at a moment of the prosecutor's choosing.
"The maxim that justice delayed is justice denied comes true when a criminal trial remains pending indefinitely for no reason whatsoever. A procrastinated trial not only adversely affects the prosecution case but may also seriously hamper the defence," the court wrote.