SC says Panama case about forged documents, warns of action


ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court’s Panama case implementation bench observed on Thursday that prima facie, the case relates to submission of forged documents.

This was the fourth consecutive hearing of the three-member bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan and comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, following the submission of the Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) final probe report into the Sharif family’s businesses.

During the hearing, Justice Ijaz remarked that there is a seven-year imprisonment term for those who submit false documents in court.

Throughout Thursday’s hearing, the members of the bench remarked at different times the absence of any money trail with regards to the Sharif family's London properties as well as the Azizia Steel Mills in Jeddah.

Justice Ejaz observed that in case the ownership and money trail of the London properties is not proved by the premier’s children, they will question the public office holder.

During the hearing, the counsel for the premier's children, Salman Akram Raja also submitted a 17-page petition listing objections on the JIT report, pleading for dismissal of the report and its 'evidence'. 

Justice Ijaz observed that producing the Qatari prince before the JIT was Hussain’s responsibility as the sheikh was his star witness.

Earlier this week, the bench heard arguments of the petitioners over the JIT report, submitted on July 10, and is now hearing the replies of the respondents. 

Bench irked on leaking of documents

The bench began hearing the case around 9:30am.

As Raja began his arguments, Justice Azmat observed that all of the consel's documents were debated in the media while Justice Ejaz remarked that maybe the counsel can give the arguments before the media as well. 

In response, Raja said he did not provide the media with any material. 

During his arguments, Raja said his client, Hussain, was not asked questions regarding the UAE Justice Ministry's letter during his JIT sessions.

Raja presented to the court documents detailing cargo shipments from UAE to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 

Justice Ijaz commented that additional documents are submitted whenever questions are raised. 

Advocate Salman Akram Raja. Photo: File 

“You should have given the complete documents to the JIT,” Justice Ejaz observed, commenting that now the counsel has brought to the fore new documents whose effect on the case will have to be seen. 

Raja replied that the JIT declared all the documents he presented to them as bogus. 

Raja also submitted a 17-page objection on the JIT report to the court, pleading for dismissal of the report and its 'evidence'. The application objects to the source material used by the JIT in its final report, saying it is unverified. 

Justice Amzat counselled Raja to not dismiss the JIT's findings but instead prove them wrong with supporting documents. 

Addressing the counsel, Justice Azmat said you have to answer law firm Mossack Fonseca's claim that Maryam is the owner of the London properties. 

Justice Ijaz inquired from Raja regarding the Azizia Mills' money trail "We been asking for a year and a half now as to how the money got to Jeddah but there has been no response so far," observed Justice Ijaz.

The counsel replied that they have provided answers but that the court does not accept them is a separate matter.

Addressing Raja, Justice Ejaz observed that you have been arguing for an hour but have not said anything new. The counsel responded by saying he is not repeating his arguments. 

There’s no accusation of any wrongdoing against the prime minister's children, said Raja, to which Justice Ejaz remarked: "If there’s no accusation then why are you wasting your energy". 

The bench observed that their questions regarding the money trail still stand where they were. Justice Ejaz remarked that if the children are unable to reveal the money trail of the London properties then the 'public officer holder' will be asked about it. 

The hearing was then put on hold as the bench went into a short recess. 

As the proceedings resumed, the bench was provided with the documents related to Qatari Prince Sheikh Hammad bin Jassim and the British Virgin Islands. The documents include the two letters sent to the JIT by the Qatari prince.

The bench observed that as the JIT has been wrapped up, the documents be submitted to the court's registrar. It also directed that the new material is made available to all parties in the case. 

The JIT did not conduct further investigation after receiving the UAE letter, argued Raja. 

Justice Ijaz remarked that the counsel's changing stances will harm his case. 

Justice Azmat observed that those who benefitted from the Hill Metals Establishment are known but the funds from where the company was set up are not.

Justice Ijaz remarked that if there’s no evidence that a wrongdoing was committed then there is also no proof that the right thing was done. 

Justice Azmat observed that prima facie, the case in front of them is of submitting bogus documents. “Don’t want to go beyond the apparent at this stage,” he commented.

When the matter goes to the relevant forum, the clarification will come too, Raja responded.

Justice Azmat observed that the bench does not want to have an effect on anyone’s basic rights or on the case.

The judge then asked what happens if false documents are submitted in court, to which the additional attorney general responded that a case is registered.

Justice Ijaz remarked that a seven-year imprisonment is the punishment for the offence.

“Raja Sahab, what have you people done?” asked Justice Azmat, adding that they cannot even imagine how this could have happened.

Raja replied saying senior lawyer Akram Sheikh was the Sharif family’s counsel at the time [the allegedly false documents were submitted].

Raja informed the bench that the Calibri font could have technically been used in 2006.

Justice Ijaz remarked that February 4, 2006 was a holiday in Britain, saying no one picks up their phone in Britain on a holiday. “What do you have to say?” he asked the counsel.

Raja responded that it is possible a mistake was committed in this regard. Justice Azmat observed that the Supreme Court cannot sit with its eyes closed. He remarked further that the law will take its course and the results of this will not be good for the respondents. 

Justice Ijaz remarked that it could be that the Qatari prince is not very photogenic, as he has refused to step out of his palace or record his statement with the JIT via video-link.

The judge observed that producing the Qatari prince before the JIT was Hussain’s responsibility as the sheikh was his star witness.

Responding to the judge’s assertion that the premier took a salary from FZE Capital, Raja said this was not the case.

Replying to Justice Ijaz’s query as to how funds reached UAE for use by FZE Capital, Raja said he will respond to this in court tomorrow.

The counsel said he sticks to his earlier position that the premier and his children did not do anything wrong. 

The hearing was later adjourned till Friday. Before the conclusion of proceedings, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar's counsel Dr Tariq Hassan informed the bench that he would continue his arguments on Friday, to which PTI's counsel Babar Awan said he would cross-question the counsel statements. 

Money trail question remains unanswered: Analysts

Senior journalist and host of Capital Talk, Hamid Mir, while speaking to Geo News on Thursday before the hearing concluded, said questions pertaining to the money train still remain unanswered. 

Mir added that it seemed that lawyers of the Sharif family had been given a task to prolong the case. “If questions remain unanswered the verdict will not be to the expectations of the PML-N.”

Senior journalist and analyst, Mazhar Abbas, said the anger expressed by the apex court was correct as questions will be raised when documents are leaked to the media before they are presented in court. 

According to Abbas, Salman Akram Raja had presented new documents but the question of the money trail was still pending.

Senior analyst Imtiaz Alam told Geo News that the longer the case lasts the worse it will get for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “If this case goes to the trial court it will cause damage to the prime minister and the PML-N,” Alam added.

AML chief Sheikh Rashid outside the court on Thursday. Photo: Geo News

Prior to the start of proceedings on Thursday, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid, one of the petitioners in the case, said all those saying there are no cases against them will be out of office before his August 13 rally in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi.

Rashid also said new documents keep coming to the fore as the case is getting tougher from them. 

“Forget the 2018 election fight, all the politics will be decided in 2017,” said Rashid. The nation stands with the Supreme Court and the JIT, he said, adding that had Nawaz Sharif resigned a year ago he would have saved his seniors and children from being stuck where they are today.

PPP leader Sherry Rehman outside the Supreme Court on July 20, 2017. Photo: Geo News

Senior Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Sherry Rehman, speaking to journalists outside the court, said these are old documents and a part of delaying tactics being employed by the government.

The former ambassador to the US criticised the prime minister's visit to Sialkot yesterday, saying "amid echoes of unprovoked Indian firing, the premier played politics". 

Instead of visiting the affected people, the prime minister did not even mention anything about the ongoing Indian aggression across the Line of Control and Working Boundary, she added.

PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said "they’ve been trying to spin things since the beginning. Today, they’ve brought to the fore another letter. It seems the court will dismiss it as it did the previous letters."

JI chief Sirajul Haq addressing the media outside the Supreme Court July 20, 2017. Photo: Geo News

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Sirajul Haq, addressing the media outside the court, said he wants a decision in favour of the people.

 “The court is unsatisfied with the arguments being presented by the government,” he claimed. 

The JI chief said he hopes corruption will be eliminated from the country following the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case.

State Water and Power Minister Abid Sher Ali reiterated his allegations of yesterday, saying Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan studied abroad using funds generated from the corruption of his father.

State minister Abid Sher Ali outside the Supreme Court on July 20, 2017. Photo: Geo News

He also accused Imran’s father of being the first corrupt person in the country, adding that on the other hand, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif began the journey of development in the country. 

Wednesday's hearing

On Wednesday, the prime minister’s lawyer, Khawaja Harris, completed his arguments before the bench.

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

Justice Ejaz observed that they also have to see if there is anything in the documents linking the premier to the case.

The bench also repeatedly inquired from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's counsel regarding the money trail of the London properties but Harris could not provide a satisfactory answer.

Moreover, the bench had directed Finance Minister Ishaq Dar's counsel Dr Tariq Hassan to submit more documents in his client's defence.

Hassan had argued before the bench that the JIT unnecessarily dragged his client into the case. The bench observed that his client refused to provide the JIT with the necessary documents to support his case.