The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday set January 7, 2022, as the date for framing charges against former Gilgit-Baltistan chief justice Rana Shamim and others in a case related to an investigative report highlighting an affidavit attributed to the ex-judge in which he accused former jurist Mian Saqib Nisar of colluding to deny bails to PML-N leadership prior to the 2018 elections.
During the hearing today, Shamim opened his original affidavit — submitted earlier in Dec, more than a month after it was mentioned in the report published in The News — on the court's instructions. Justice Minallah asked Shamim if the document was the former judge's affidavit and whether he had sealed it himself to which Shamim replied in the affirmative.
Justice Minallah also directed that copies of the affidavit be provided to Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan.
The IHC had earlier directed the former judge to submit his original affidavit in three previous hearings, warning that charges would be framed if the maker of the affidavit, Shamim, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Jang Group Mir Shakeelur Rehman, senior journalist Ansar Abbasi and resident editor Amer Ghouri failed to show it was executed and published for bona fide purpose.
In the 'leaked' affidavit, on which Ansar Abbasi's report was based, Shamim allegedly stated that Nisar, during his visit to GB, made a call to an IHC judge and asked him to ensure that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were not released on bail before July 25, 2018 general elections. The affidavit was published as part of an investigative report by The News on Nov 15.
Justice Minallah had subsequently taken notice of the report and later issued show-cause notices to Abbasi, Rehman, Ghouri as well as Shamim under the Contempt of Court Ordinance.
During the hearing today, the IHC chief justice observed that Shamim's written response submitted to the court had "laid the entire blame" on journalist Ansar Abbasi, recalling that the former jurist had also maintained that he had not shared the affidavit with anyone.
He added that in similar circumstances, courts in the United Kingdom asked journalists to disclose their sources but the IHC would not do so.
"The judge [mentioned in] the affidavit was on leave at the time. Attempts were also made to cast doubt on the two judges on the bench," Justice Minallah said.
Attorney General of Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan noted that the font of the affidavit appeared to be Calibri — the same font used in key documents submitted by PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz to a joint investigation team set up to probe the Panama Papers leak which were found to be 'faked'.
The IHC chief justice asked Shamim's counsel, Lateef Afridi, why the court should not go ahead with framing charges given the situation. Afridi responded that he had not prepared to argue on the framing of charges but Shamim had accepted that the affidavit belonged to him.
Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Vice Chairman, Amjad Ali Shah, who is amicus curiae in the case, said those named in the affidavit should submit their responses so proceedings in the case could move forward.
"Is the Pakistan Bar Council saying that prima facie, what is written in the affidavit is correct? If the Pakistan Bar Council is saying that what is written in the affidavit is correct, it would [amount to] suspicion of all judges of this court," Justice Minallah said.
He added the PBC would have to take a "very clear stand" on the matter.
'Nothing to do with Saqib Nisar'
Justice Minallah said the matter had "nothing to do" with the former chief justice of Pakistan. "Go and do what you want to do with Mian Saqib Nisar," he remarked.
He recalled that proceedings had started because of an attempt to cast suspicion on judges of the high court. "[This] perception is being created which everyone has started believing as true," Justice Minallah said.
"Where was that perception when bail was granted two weeks later by this same court?" he questioned.
The attorney general said that the concerned document was very important in a contempt of court case. Afridi responded that Shamim had said the affidavit was a "private document" and was written on his wife's request.
"By now, even Rana Shamim must have come to know how sensitive this issue is," Justice Minallah remarked.
"Contempt of court cases were initiated against Firdous Ashiq Awan in [the IHC] and Imran Khan in the Supreme Court. What happened in those cases? Such cases are initiated and the court has to show mercy," Afridi responded.
"Rana Shamim did not leak his affidavit to the press or give it to anyone. He also asked Ansar Abbasi where he had received it," the ex-judge's counsel argued.
The lawyer further said that Abbasi had declined to reveal his source. "Ansar Abbasi has some privileges as a journalist," he added.
Justice Minallah then asked whether Shamim had taken any action on the breach of his privacy to which the counsel responded that no legal action could be taken due to the ongoing contempt of court case.
The judge then asked Afridi to inform who the beneficiaries of the affidavit were to which the counsel replied that he did not know nor was it his job.
Afridi said Shamim "did not know about the affidavit's consequences when he wrote it". The judge reiterated his question about who the beneficiaries were to which Afridi again responded that he did know and requested the court to not waste time on the issue since there were other cases pending.
The chief justice remarked, "What if Kulbhushan Jadhav (Indian spy) submitted an affidavit saying his case should not be heard by this court since it is compromised? This is a serious matter. Understand the consequences of this affidavit."
He asked Afridi to present evidence as to how the court was allegedly compromised.
Talked to Shamim before publication: Abbasi
Meanwhile, journalist Ansar Abbasi said that he had talked to Shamim a day before the report was published. "Rana Shamim also [messaged] me that what I read out was correct," the journalist said.
Justice Minallah questioned whether the newspaper Abbasi worked at would publish an affidavit if "someone wants to use your newspaper and sends" one.
"If anyone wants to influence a high profile case in this court, will you publish that affidavit?" Justice Minallah questioned.
The News resident editor Amir Ghouri responded: "We have to look at the public interest. It is not our job to see if the document is correct."
The judge noted that Shamim said his affidavit was "leaked" without his permission, adding that the beneficiaries — in an apparent reference to PML-N leadership — got relief from the IHC two weeks after the alleged phone call.
Justice Minallah said that a campaign was run against him and questioned the editor whether he would publish an affidavit related to it if he was given one by somebody.
"As an editor, you should have [remembered] that they got relief from the same court," Justice Minallah remarked.
Ghouri noted that according to Shamim, it was said during the alleged phone call that Nawaz should not be let out from prison before the 2018 general elections.
"Do you know how many benches were formed before the election? He got relief from this same court two weeks later. What is this [talk] that he can't [be released] before the election but can be later?" Justice Minallah asked.
Abbasi contended that the affidavit was written not by an "ordinary person" but by a chief justice upon which Justice Minallah asked him whether he knew how the GB chief justice was appointed.
"There is no procedure for the appointment of the GB chief justice. GB chief justice is appointed by the prime minister without consulting the chief justice [of Pakistan]," the judge said.
Subsequently, the the attorney general requested the court to indict Shamim and the others. Terming Shamim responsible since he was the one who wrote the affidavit, the AG said the ex-judge had committed contempt of court.
"Since the past three days, there are [reports] that the affidavit was written in someone's office. It is surprising that no denial has come forth," the AG said.
Shamim's counsel responded that the matter had been denied in a TV interview. However, the AG argued that no denials were made by those related to the matter.
"Rana Shamim should accept that he was used and apologise. If he does, then I too will [ask the court] to not take action. If he doesn't apologise, then set a date quickly for indictment," the AG requested the court.
Subsequently, the court set January 7, 2022, as the date for framing charges.
Judge says he was alone at time of notarising
Responding to a question from a reporter outside the court earlier in the day, Shamim said "indeed" when asked whether he was alone at the time the affidavit was notarised.
It is pertinent to mention that a separate investigative report published in The Express Tribune last week had cited unspecified "evidence" and quoted Charles D. Guthrie — the London-based solicitor who had notarised Shamim's affidavit — as saying that the document was notarised at an office in Stanhope Place in Marble Arch, London, adding that the office belonged to Flagship Developments Limited, of which Nawaz's son Hasan Nawaz is a director and where top PML-N leaders often hold their meetings.
"In the evidence, Guthrie has confirmed three times that Shamim was present at Marble Arch," the story claims, adding that the notary also implied that Shamim was a close friend of Nawaz's.
Furthermore, the solicitor indicated that Nawaz was also present when Shamim signed the affidavit and took the oath.
Following the publication of The Express Tribune report, PTI leaders had assailed the Sharif family and branded them the "Sicilian mafia".