ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Friday wondered why the Jamaat-i-Islami chose to segregate the main case from its petition, seeking an investigation against 436 individuals named in Panama Papers for allegedly stashing fortunes in foreign offshore companies, and allowed the case to proceed against a particular family.

“What were the reasons to separate the JI petition during the hearing of the Panama Papers [and] that too after 24 hearings,” wondered Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, also questioning whether the real purpose was to keep the hearing focused on a particular family.

Justice Masood was heading a two-judge Supreme Court bench that had taken up the JI plea for a direction against 436 individuals who allegedly stashed fortunes in offshore entities in foreign lands.

On Nov 3, 2017, the party filed an application to remind the Supreme Court about its pending petition which was filed by party emir Sirajul Haq in Aug 2016. Though the judge did not comment any further, he observed that it appeared as if there was something more than meets the eye.

Justice Masood wonders why only one family targeted out of 436 individuals named in leaks

On July 28, 2017, a five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa disqualified then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif for life for not being an honest politician in light of the Panama Papers.

‘De-linking’ of plea

On Friday, when the court wondered how going after the 436 people whose names surfaced in the Panama Papers was in the interest of the country, JI counsel Muhammad Ishtiaq Ahmed Raja, who was representing the JI, replied that the matter concerned public money. “Then why this thinking did not occur to you when the case was de-linked after 24 hearings,” Justice Masood retorted.

The counsel regretted that the investigating agencies had issued notices to 436 people but no headway was made after that. The court reminded the counsel that when JI had separated their cases, the investigating agencies had furnished their replies before the court.

At the outset of the hearing, the JI chief requested the formation of a judicial commission to probe into the matter but was quickly intercepted by Justice Masood who wondered why it had taken the petitioner so long to raise these concerns.

Among the 436 individuals in the Panama Paper leaks, the names of certain personalities belonging to the business class were also included, the court observed also wondering whether the petitioner wanted to drive the business class away from the country.

He also wondered why investigating agencies, like the National Accountability Bureau, the Federal Investigation Agency, and anti-corruption departments were not approached against the individuals named in Panama Papers.

He also questioned the need to involve the Supreme Court in every matter, asking how other institutions like the central bank or Federal Board of Revenue would function if the top court is to constitute a judicial commission to probe these leaks.

The court also expressed surprise that the petitioner did not reach out to any investigating agency despite the lapse of seven years after the decision on the Panama Paper case, if they really believed that the nation’s wealth had been laundered outside the country.

A five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa that was hearing petitions against Nawaz Sharif and his family members for making investments in offshore companies against the backdrop of Panama Paper Leaks had segregated the case at the request of the JI since the grounds taken in it was too wide.

In an apparent reference to the law regarding Article 184 (3) that pertains to suo motu powers, the top court wondered about the admissibility of cases in the exercise of the court’s original jurisdiction. The court observed that the question of maintainability of the petition under Article 184(3) had already been decided on Nov 3, 2016, with the consent of the petitioners and respondents at that time.

On Nov 3, 2016, a five-judge bench headed by then-chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali ruled that the court was competent to assume jurisdiction especially when the parties before it had argued that the court could invoke validly its authority under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

Justice Masood postponed proceedings for a month with an observation regarding how the court could decide about the matter without hearing 436 individuals who have been accused of parking wealth in offshore companies.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2023

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