Monday, July 17, 2017

All eyes on Supreme Court as parties reply to JIT report today

At the last hearing, the special bench sent notices to the respondents and petitioners to submit responses to the JIT's final report

Officials transporting the JIT report to the Supreme Court on July 10. The report is spread over 250 pages on 10 volumes. Volume X of the report has been kept confidential on the JIT's request. Photo: Geo News

ISLAMABAD: The Panama Papers saga enters what may likely be its final round on Monday (today) as the Supreme Court will hear responses of all the parties over the joint investigation team (JIT)’s report. 

All eyes are fixed on the Supreme Court as the future course of the over-year long episode is likely to be determined by the honourable judges on Monday. 

The report and its aftermath 

The JIT, formed in light of the apex court’s April 20 judgment to probe the Sharif family’s money trail, submitted its 60-day investigation report to the court on July 10. The report highlighted the failure of the Sharif family to provide a money trail for its London apartments and claimed the prime minister and his children own assets beyond their known sources of income.

Following the report's submission, the special bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, issued notices to the parties to submit their responses. 

The petitioners include Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rasheed and Jamaat-e-Isami head Sirajul Haq while the respondents include the prime minister, his family members, and several government officials and departments.

The bench is expected to begin proceedings at 9:30am.

Since the last hearing a week ago, following which the JIT report became public, the opposition parties stand near-unanimous in their demand for the prime minister to resign whereas Nawaz Sharif, doubting the report’s veracity, has vowed to stay in office "till the end".

Sources said on Friday that the ruling family has prepared its response that it will submit in the court today. The response reportedly raises objections to repeated addition of several documents in the JIT report. It also objects to the "discriminatory behaviour of the probe team and use of derogatory words about some witnesses".

After the July 10 hearing, Sheikh Rasheed said he would request the court on Monday to summon the prime minister for cross-examination.  

July 10 hearing

At the last hearing, the bench also sought from the government transcripts of speeches made by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Talal Chaudhry, Prime Minister’s Political Secretary Asif Kirmani and Railways Minister Saad Rafique. Sources said those transcripts have been submitted to the apex court.

The special bench had also issued contempt of court notices to the editor, publisher and a reporter of The News directing them to submit their response in seven days.

Moreover, the bench directed the JIT head Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Additional Director Wajid Zia to publicly reveal the name of the person who leaked the interrogation picture of the premier’s son, Hussain Nawaz. On June 3, a picture of Hussain appearing before the JIT on May 28 was leaked to the media. In response, the JIT informed the court that it had taken action against the responsible official within 24 hours of the leak and sent him back to his parent department where action was taken against him. 

The identity of the official has still not been made public. 

Regarding Hussain’s plea to form a commission to probe his picture leak, the court, on July 10, left the matter to the government.

Since the hearing, an FIR was registered against Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan Chairman Zafar Hijazi. Before he could be arrested, Hijazi obtained bail and is still in office. He was accused in a court-ordered FIA inquiry of tampering official records to favour the Sharif family’s case in the JIT investigation.

The stock market also reacted negatively to July 10’s proceedings, with the KSE 100-index noting an almost daily decline since. 

The original judgment

Hearing the Panama Papers case since last year, a five-judge Supreme Court bench delivered its much-anticipated verdict in the case on April 20.

In a 3-2 split decision, the majority judges determined that the available evidence was insufficient to disqualify the prime minister outright and directed for the formation of a JIT to investigate the case and collect evidence, if any, showing that "Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or any of his dependents or benamidar owns, possesses or acquired assets or any interest therein disproportionate to their known means of income".

The apex court also observed that after the JIT's final report is presented, "the matter of disqualification [of Nawaz Sharif] shall be considered".