ISLAMABAD: Advocate Salman Akram Raja dropped a bombshell when he told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the wife of Justice Qazi Faez Isa had presented herself before the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).
On the 26th day of the hearing in the challenges to the presidential reference against Justice Isa, Mr Raja said: “The day before yesterday (Monday), the wife of the petitioner judge presented herself before FBR to inquire why it is not asking her about the offshore properties in her name.”
Salman Akram Raja is representing the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) before a 10-judge Supreme Court full court, which has taken up a set of challenges to the reference.
The wife and the daughter of Justice Isa are in Islamabad, waiting for the issuance of a notice by the tax department, the counsel said.
Justice Maqbool Baqar wondered whether the counsel can get his information verified since if it turned out to be correct, it would entirely change the course of the proceedings. Justice Baqar also asked Salman Raja to inform the court as to whom, and when, the idea of filing a reference against Justice Isa occurred.
Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who is heading the full court of the apex court, asked Mr Raja to repeat the statement so that Muneer A. Malik, the lawyer who is representing the petitioner judge Justice Isa, could come up with his version.
Mr Malik explained that the last date of filing of the wealth statement under Section 118(a) of the Income Tax Ordinance (ITO) was Jan 31, 2020.
“And it is in my knowledge that the wife of Justice Isa has visited the FBR office in Islamabad,” the counsel said. “She used to file her wealth statement in Karachi, but when her tax practitioner tried to file the same this time, the portal did not open. He learnt later the file of her entire income tax history has been shifted to Islamabad from Karachi.
“So she made a query as to why the tax file was shifted to Islamabad, but I have been informed that the FBR office has not answered her question,” Mr Malik added.
He emphasised that Justice Isa’s’ wife was not a party in the present proceedings and that his client (Justice Isa) was not answerable for the conduct of his wife.
Justice Bandial observed that the court could ask Additional Attorney General (AAG) Chaudhry Aamir Rehman to find out the truth and that if the wife was willing to meet FBR officials, a meeting could be arranged between them.
The AAG, however, said “the very basis of the reference is the offshore properties”, but sought time for verification of the information.
Justice Yahya Afridi asked the AAG to find out whether the President was willing to withdraw the reference in the light of the revelation about Mrs Isa’s readiness to file her statement or he favoured going ahead with the matter.
Justice Bandial, in an order dictated after Wednesday’s proceedings, noted the FBR did not assist Mrs Isa when she wanted to know why her tax file had been shifted from Karachi to Islamabad. “If she is willing to file her return, why the present reference against Justice Isa be heard further.”
The order asked the AAG to find out whether the wife was willing to provide details about the properties and place this information before the court on behalf of the FBR on Monday.
Stress on due process
Salman Akram Raja argued due process required that the “ostensible owner” of the properties must have been questioned in the first instance instead of jumping straight to the filing of a reference before the SJC against the judge.
“The dignity of the judge, as well as that of the entire judiciary, stands compromised,” he argued.
Bilal Minto, representing petitioner Abid Minto, emphasised that the president served as a neutral and a buffer between the government and the judiciary.
“If we accept the proposition that the president has to be neutral, all complaints for inquiry against a judge by the government have to come through the president since the government cannot send the reference directly to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC),” Mr Minto said.
“You are saying that the government is not like any other informant or complainant,” Justice Baqar observed.
Mr Minto argued that in case the president formed an opinion, he was required to decide independently whether the material before him was worth sending to the SJC.
The first complainant, Abdul Waheed Dogar, should have addressed his complaint to the SJC as it was not his job to write letters to the president, the counsel contended.
He further said the prime minister’s role in such matters was irrelevant.
But in the present case, Justice Baqar recalled, Mr Dogar did not write even to the President.
“The president has to collect material in support of the complaint and can put in place an appropriate machinery to proceed with the case and nothing else,” the judge observed.
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2020