ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered further investigations into corruption allegations levelled by the opposition against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, saying there was insufficient evidence to order his removal from office.
"A thorough investigation is required," Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said, announcing the highly anticipated decision following a months-long hearing stemming from the Panama Papers leak last year that linked PM Sharif´s children to offshore businesses.
The verdict ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation team (JIT) to carry out an investigation into how Gulf Steel Mill came into being, its sale and liabilities, how the sale proceeds ended up in Jeddah, Qatar and the UK. How the prime minister's children at their tender age had the means to purchase the flats in the early nineties.
It further raised questions regarding the letters written by Qatari Prince Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al-Thani, how the bearer shares crystilised into the flats, who the real owner and beneficiary of the offshore company Neilsen Enterprises and Nescol Limited was, how Hill Metal Establishment came into existence; where the funds for Flagship Investment Limited and other companies set up by Hasan Nawaz Sharif came from and where working capital came from and the source of millions gifted by Hussein Nawaz Sharif to his father originated from.
To seek answers to the questions raised, the Supreme Court ordered the formation of a JIT to investigate and present its report every two weeks before a Supreme Court bench. The court also ordered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and his sons Hasan and Hussein to appear before the JIT as and when required, which will complete its investigation within 60 days of its formation.
The order further added, that after receiving the JIT reports, periodic or final, the matter of disqualification of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif shall be considered.
Observing that the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had failed to carry out his duties, the apex court ordered the JIT to comprise one senior official each from NAB, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the Securities Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the Military Intelligence (MI) will be tasked to carry out the probe.
The detailed decision by the apex court comprised 549 pages, with the verdict split 3-2 between the five-member apex court bench.
Two dissenting judges on the five-member bench were of the opinion that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had not been honest to the nation and that he should have been disqualified.
The five-member bench led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had reserved its verdict in the case on February 23. The decision comes ahead of general elections scheduled to be held next year.
Judge's dissenting note begins with 'The Godfather' reference
The Supreme Court of Pakistan's detailed judgment spanning over 540 pages began with a dissenting note from Justice Asif Saeed Khosa which opened with the epigraph from the cult classic novel 'The Godfather' likening the case to the very sentence attributed to Balzac's original work Le Père Goriot:
The popular 1969 novel ‘The Godfather’ by Mario Puzo recounted the violent tale of a Mafia family and the epigraph selected by the author was fascinating:
Behind every great fortune there is a crime.
The novel was a popular sensation which was made into an acclaimed film. It is believed that this epigraph was inspired by a sentence that was written by Honoré de Balzac and its original version in French reads as follows:
Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’il a été proprement fait.
(The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed)
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) called the Supreme Court verdict a victory for the party.
Maryam Nawaz, the prime minister's daughter, tweeted photographs of Sharif in a celebratory mood with his family, embracing his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.Another picture showed the prime minister with Shahbaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam, Senator Pervaiz Rashid, and other senior PML-N leaders.
Praise & glory be to Allah alone. Shukrana & mubariks pic.twitter.com/yM92bIJJoc— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) April 20, 2017
Speaking to media following the decision, PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique said that today Nawaz Sharif, his team, PML-N, our voters and all Pakistanis who are advocates of democracy won.
"The order to create a joint investigation team is the victory of the PM’s point of view,” Rafique added.
He added that with Nawaz Sharif in the lead, the PML-N will win in the in the people’s court in 2018. “Not only will we establish our government in all four provinces, we will also get two-thirds majority."
Speaking to Geo News in London, the prime minister's son Hasan Nawaz thanked God for the decision.
PM vows to implement Panama verdict 'in letter and spirit'
PM has vowed to implement ‘in letter and spirit’ the verdict of Panama Leaks case.
Reacting to apex court’s decision, he said that he had put himself before the court’s mercy and Allah made him successful.
'Day of Thanksgiving, Riddance'
The ruling PML-N has said that it will observe Friday as 'Thanksgiving Day'. The people and workers of the party will express their gratitude to the Almighty today, a PML-N spokesperson said.
PTI central information secretary Naeemul Haq said his party would also mark Friday as 'Day of Riddance and Thanksgiving'. He said prayers will be held today for the country's future.
Chairman Pakistan Tehreeke-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan called for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down until an investigation team ordered by the Supreme Court completes its probe.
"On behalf of the Pakistan people I tell Nawaz Sharif to resign immediately until JIT completes its probe,” Imran Khan told reporters in Islamabad following the Supreme Court verdict in the Panama Leaks case.
Terming the apex court verdict "a historic judgment in Pakistan's history", he said that all five members of the bench had has rejected PM Sharif's explanation into his source of income and money trail that led to his children's offshore holdings.
PTI leadership celebrating Panama Leaks case verdict
Pakistan Peoples` Party Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari condemned the Supreme Court's decision on Panama Leaks case and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Speaking to the press, along with the party stalwarts, Zardari said that the “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should resign ethically. I condemn the Supreme Court`s decision and reject it,” further adding, “today democracy and justice were adversely affected.”
He said that the majority of junior judges have joked with the people of Pakistan, however, the senior judges have given the finest decision. “I salute the two senior judges,” he said.
‘Case hasn’t ended, it has only begun’
Giving his comments about the verdict, Jamat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq said that the case was not over yet, it had only begun.
“The Supreme Court decision is like stepping out of the frying pan and stumbling into the fire”, said JI chief.
He said that the court has not given a clean chit to the Prime Minister, adding that the verdict showed that corruption was rampant in the country.
Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said that no money trail was presented in court
“What is Nawaz Sharif celebrating”, He asked
The controversy that locally became known as the Panama Leaks erupted with the publication of the so-called Panama Papers last year when 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca which documented the offshore dealings of many of the world's rich and powerful were leaked online.
Among the global elite implicated were three of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's – his daughter Maryam, and his sons Hasan and Hussein.
At the heart of the matter was the legitimacy of the funds used by the prime minister's children to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies.
Sharif's ruling PML-N party had insisted the wealth was acquired legally through family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.
But the opposition parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), argued the paper trail for the funds was non-existent, and that the onus was on PM Nawaz Sharif to prove his relatives did not engage in money laundering.
The case took the country by storm and dominated headlines in the country for over a year now, with all eyes set on the Supreme Court in Islamabad for the much-anticipated verdict.
Security had been beefed up around the Supreme Court at Islamabad's Constitution Avenue, with additional barriers placed and barbed wires laid around several buildings.
Around 1000 police, Rangers and security personnel were deployed inside and outside the apex court building. A senior police official said entry of irrelevant persons in the Red Zone was blocked, while VIPs' security guards would also not be able to carry arms with them.
Separately, around 2,500 police officers were deployed in the provincial capital Lahore ahead of the verdict, according to a Punjab police spokesperson. The security force included six superintendents, 29 deputy superintendents, 83 SHOs, 165 upper subordinates, and around 2,400 lower subordinates.
PTI, PML-N workers barred from going to SC
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had barred his party activists from going to the apex court, on the occasion of the announcement of a much-awaited verdict in the Panama leaks case. He said that no irrelevant person needs to go to the Supreme Court.
PTI chairman Imran Khan had also restricted his workers from coming to the apex court. He said only central leaders of the party would go to the SC.
Note: An earlier version of this story stated the judgement began with an epigraph from the novel 'The Godfather', the epigraph was part of Justice Asif Saeed Khosa's dissenting note. The error is regretted.