SC to decide whether to hear Panama case or send to accountability court

PM's counsel presented his arguments in Supreme Court today; Ishaq Dar, PM's children's counsels to appear tmrw

Awais Yousafzai
Qamber Zaidi

ISLAMABAD: The Panama case implementation bench observed on Wednesday that they have to decide whether to hear the case themselves or send it to an accountability court.  

Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, who heads the special three-member Supreme Court bench, said they also have to see if there is anything in the documents linking the premier to the case. 

During today's hearing, the bench also repeatedly inquired from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's counsel regarding the money trail of the London properties. 

The premier's counsel, Khawaja Harris, could not provide the bench with a satisfactory answer as he resumed his arguments from Tuesday. 

The special implementation bench, headed by Justice Ejaz and comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, began hearing the case around 9:30am.

Presenting his arguments, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar's counsel Tariq Hassan informed the bench that the JIT unnecessarily dragged his client into the case.

The bench came down hard on Hassan, observing that his client refused to provide the JIT with the necessary documents to support his case. 

It gave the counsel until Thursday to submit the relevant documents, observing that he has nothing to worry about if his client is not connected to Hill Metals Establishment. 

'Who owns the London properties?' 

As the hearing began, Harris argued before the bench that the prime minister was not asked about any of his assets. "If the JIT had something [related to his assets], they would have asked questions," he said.

The prime minister's counsel read out his statement given to the JIT.

Harris said the premier has no assets other than those he has declared. 

Justice Ijaz remarked that the prime minister said he would provide a money trail of all the properties but he did not explain when he bought the properties and where he generated funds for their purchase.

Everything is clear except for the ownership of the London properties, observed the bench.

PM's counsel Khawaja Harris at the Supreme Court on July 19, 2017. Photo: Geo News

Harris said the prime minister is not the owner of the London flats. 

The premier's counsel further claimed that the JIT report does not term the prime minister a benamidar [owning property in someone else's name], adding that the JIT has stated that the flats are the entire Sharif family's.

Justice Ijaz remarked that the question as to how the funds reached London from Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia has still not been answered. 

He commented further that if the main question [of the money trail] is answered, the matter will be settled. 

Harris claimed that the premier's late father, Mian Sharif, used to handle the family's business affairs. 

Justice Ijaz remarked that the prime minister knew what he was saying in the National Assembly when he claimed he would provide the money trail of the London flats.

"The tragedy is that there are no documents to prove who the real owner of the London properties is," remarked Justice Azmat. 

Before concluding his arguments, Harris requested the bench to note that Nawaz Sharif, during his entire term in public office in the last four decades, has not been accused of any corruption or financial misappropriation.

Dar directed to submit more documents 

Later, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar's counsel Dr Tariq Hassan began his arguments before the bench but the court went into recess shortly after. 

Upon resuming the hearing, the bench directed the counsel for the premier's children, Salman Akram Raja, to present his arguments saying they want to hear him first. 

Raja informed the court that some new records have been obtained, which will be submitted to the court in a day or two. 

As a result, Hassan began presenting his arguments. Justice Ejaz hoped the counsel will not take up much time today.  

In response to a question from the bench, Hassan claimed Imran Khan's petition did not directly accuse Ishaq Dar of anything. 

He also said the JIT had wrongly accused the finance minister of not submitting his tax returns of 2001-02, adding that these findings could lead to a trial against his client. 

In response, Justice Ijaz remarked that the counsel will be given a complete chance to defend his client if the matter goes to trial. 

Referring to the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, Justice Azmat observed that Dar was a suspect and gave a 'confessional' statement. 

Hassan responded saying the statement, taken under duress, was later retracted by Dar and thus the matter stands closed and cannot be reopened. "Furthermore, I am not prepared to argue this particular case today," Hassan stated. 

When Dar's counsel said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has closed the case file, Justice Ejaz remarked that didn't the court direct the NAB chairman to reopen the case. Justice Azmat added that should the bench close its eyes to everything.

Responding to Hassan's assertion that his client is not related to the case in any way, Justice Ijaz remarked that the company of Dar’s son, Ali, received funds from Hill Metals Establishment. "We have told you the entire connection now," the judge remarked.

Justice Azmat directed the counsel to provide additional documents, saying "You will be given a complete chance to defend your case".

"Had the JIT examined my documents they would have realised my client’s assets actually decreased over the years," commented Hassan.

Justice Ijaz responded saying the JIT asked your client regarding his businesses and earnings but he refused to answer citing privilege. "You opted not to share documents. How can you say you revealed the facts then," the judge remarked, observing further that this approach was adopted by everyone in the case not just Dar. 

"Your assets jumped from Rs9 million in 1993 to Rs854 million in 2000," the judge commented further.

Justice Azmat said the bench could have made its decision without taking into account the counsel's objections.

"Answer the allegations against you in a trial court," observed Justice Ijaz.

When asked, Hassan said the NAB, Federal Board of Revenue and Election Commission of Pakistan have not found any discrepancy in Dar’s records.

Hassan said the JIT’s conduct with his client was inappropriate. "Why did the JIT level accusations against my client?" asked Hassan.

Addressing the counsel, Justice Ejaz remarked that "if you are not connected to the Hill Metals Establishment you have nothing to worry about". 

The bench then directed Hassan to submit the relevant documents in court tomorrow and adjourned the hearing till Thursday. 

Media talks 

Prior to the start of proceedings, Awami Muslim League (AML) leader Sheikh Rashid addressed the media outside the apex court. He said after Harris' yesterday's arguments, the "game is over". He said those criticising the JIT are in fact criticising the Supreme Court. 

Addressing the media a little after Rashid, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chief Sirajul Haq said his fight is with corruption. "Rulers of our country think they cannot be held accountable. I hope the people will get justice from the Supreme Court," he added. 

Both the AML chief and JI, along with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, are petitioners in the Panama Papers case. 

Before the hearing went under way, State Water and Power Minister Abid Sher Ali addressed the media. He claimed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan does not come to the Supreme Court for fear of arrest. 

He accused the PTI chief's father of being involved in corruption and said Imran pursued his education at Oxford University from ill-gotten wealth.

On Tuesday, the three-member special bench hearing the case observed that it would examine all the material and then decide on disqualifying the premier or sending the matter to an accountability court.

The bench resumed hearing the case after the petitioners presented their arguments in favour of the Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) final report a day earlier.

Previous hearing

On Monday, the petitioners delivered their arguments in favour of the Panama case JIT report and against the Sharif family.

The counsels for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Sheikh Rashid presented their arguments during Monday’s proceedings.

PTI counsel Naeem Bukhari pleaded with the apex court to summon Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for cross examination, disqualify him from Parliament and send cases against him and his family to an accountability court.

The counsel for JI argued that the premier did not speak the truth during his speech in Parliament.

Sheikh Rashid, presenting his arguments, said the nation was embarrassed to find out its prime minister is a paid employer of another company.

In his brief remarks to the bench on Monday, the Sharif family's lawyer said a case against the Sharif family cannot be undertaken on the basis of the JIT report.

The bench observed that an investigation was required based on the nature of the allegations and was thus directed. "The JIT was not conducting a trial...choose you words carefully," observed Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed.

Later, the bench adjourned the hearing, with Justice Ejaz observing that they do not wish to waste the court and the nation's time.

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 issued notices to all parties to submit their responses.