ISLAMABAD: A teary-eyed Mrs Justice Qazi Faez Isa on Thursday presented before the Supreme Court the evidence of funds used to purchase the three offshore properties whose money trail is a key to a presidential reference filed against her husband.
“We are quite satisfied that you have the material in support of the source (of money) for the properties,” observed Justice Umar Ata Bandial after the recording of her statement.
During the recording of her statement, Mrs Isa broke down several times and spoke in a choked voice while showing her documents.
“You have a strong answer to the slur caused by the allegations,” said Justice Bandial, who was heading a ten-judge full bench that was hearing a set of pleas that challenged a presidential reference against Justice Isa.
Zarina breaks into tears several times during her testimony recorded through video link
“We are impressed by your bravery and courage,” said Justice Bandial, who had in the morning allowed Mrs Isa to get her statement recorded after her husband had appeared on Wednesday before the court as her emissary to convey that she was willing to explain her position vis-à-vis the three properties.
Consequently, arrangements were made so that Mrs Isa, who remained at her residence, was hooked up via video link to Courtroom No 1 where the judges, the counsel and other people listened to her in complete silence.
In her statement before a visibly disturbed full court, Zarina Montessarat Carrera Khoso tried to establish that Justice Isa had nothing to do with the London properties, which became the basis of the presidential reference against her husband.
She began by conceding that she was nervous but added that whatever she was stating was correct.
She said her husband had suggested that she should not get involved (in the matter) because the reference was about him, but added that she wanted to clear her name as well as that of her family.
She then showed her birth certificate, which carried her maiden name. She said people made fun of her name for being `Cerina’, saying in Spanish Zarina was spelt as ‘Cerina’.
That name was also registered in her passport, to which she was entitled for having a Spanish mother, she said.
She also showed multiple entry visas granted to her by the Pakistan government on her passports when her husband had not become a judge of the Balochistan High Court, but pointed out that on Jan 8, 2020 the government issued a one-year multiple entry visa.
She lamented that she was being harassed and accused of misusing the office of her husband. “I would be better off had my husband not been a judge throughout [...].” She said she should be treated like an ordinary woman.
Because the land authorities in the UK accepted passport as a valid document, therefore the said properties were purchased with the name as mentioned in the passport, Mrs Isa said.
Explaining how she earned the money required, she said she used to teach at the prestigious Karachi American School before she got married. At the school, tax was also deducted from her salary, which included additional benefits like house rent, conveyance allowance, etc though she did not need to pay rent.
Her tax adviser Rehan Hassan Naqvi used to pay the tax returns on her behalf, she said. While showing copies of her tax returns, she said it took her a long time to get the documents. The Pakistan government had provided her with a tax certificate for paying the taxes.
She also deplored that her regional tax officer had been changed from Karachi to Islamabad without her knowledge and although she went to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) twice she was never asked about the source of funds for the properties.
In Karachi, she said, she owned an office, which was shared with another lady and which was later sold. This was disclosed in the annual income tax returns.
Similarly, another property in Clifton, Karachi, was sold on which tax was also paid, she said. A third property in Shah Latif Town in Karachi was encroached upon.
In addition to the properties in Karachi, she had vast agricultural lands in Jacobabad, Sindh, and Dera Murad Jamali, Balochistan, she said.
Mrs Isa spent considerable time in reading out the Khasra number of each piece of land.
“I don’t want to make a wrong statement but I believe tax must have been paid,” she said adding that she was advised by her tax adviser to open foreign bank accounts since the government was encouraging it and this was legal too.
“I relied on the advice of the adviser who also stated that there was no need to mention anything about the agricultural lands if foreign exchange account was used,” she said.
“The two foreign currency accounts bear a Karachi address,” she said while holding some papers before the camera but requesting that this not be shared with the government because she didn’t “trust them”.
She said she bought the properties between 2003 and 2013 and transferred a total of 700,000 pounds through the Standard Chartered Bank; the money was transferred in her own name. “The bank reports every transaction to the State Bank of Pakistan,” she stated.
The first property was purchased in her name in 2004 for 236,000 pounds, the second one in 2013 in her and her son’s name for 245,000 pounds, and the third one in her and daughter’s name for 270,000 pounds.
“All these accounts are in my name and not my husband’s name and if you add up the value of the properties which was being claimed (to be in) millions is equivalent to a one-kanal house either in Karachi or Islamabad,” she said.
The lawyer hired for the purchase and transfer of funds was of her choice and not that of her husband, she said, adding that different taxes and service charges were paid to the government, all in her name. “I have been billed and paying them still,” she said.
When she stopped working in the school, she was told by her adviser that she did not need to pay tax. Later the law changed and she started filing returns, she said while explaining that she was disclosing the properties because the law had changed and now there was a requirement to disclose everything.
She stated that she had been filing income tax returns for the properties both in Pakistan and the UK and the British authorities had even refunded some of the tax money. She wondered why she had not been asked about the properties during the last 13 months.
Justice Bandial, however, observed that the court could not resolve the dispute; therefore she should approach either the tax authorities or the Supreme Judicial Council, which could give her a sympathetic hearing.
He said she should go to the FBR, adding that “being a judge we are answerable for our actions both in public and private life”. “We could have given you an in-camera hearing, but decided to hear (you) in open court.”
The court also asked government’s counsel Farogh Nasim to furnish the reply of FBR in a sealed envelope about Mrs Isa’s complaint that she had disclosed the properties in her tax returns for 2018-2019 but the FBR had still issued a notice to her.
Muneer A. Malik, the counsel for Justice Isa, praised his wife and said she was far more articulate than he himself was, as she had presented her case in a good way.
The court will resume the hearing on Friday when Mr Malik will rebut the arguments of Mr Nasim who concluded his arguments on Thursday.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2020