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Monday Jan 20 2020

Federal minister Faisal Vawda may have hidden his dual nationality from ECP

Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda. Photo: File 

ISLAMABAD: An investigative report published in The News on Monday reveals that Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda may have committed perjury by falsely declaring in an oath to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that he did not hold any foreign nationality.

According to The News, Vawda was in possession of a United States passport at the time he filed his nomination papers on June 11, 2018. The minister remained an American national even at the time the scrutiny of his nomination papers was completed.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan in a past judgment has categorically ruled that candidates who hold dual nationality are supposed to submit a renunciation certificate of the foreign nationality along with their nomination papers.

The same judgment has previously led to the disqualification of various lawmakers, notable among whom Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) senators Saadia Abbasi and Haroon Akhtar.

In Vawda’s case, the last date to file the nomination papers for the July 2018 elections was June 11.

Also read: Should political leaders be allowed to hold dual citizenship?

Documents showed that Vawda submitted his election papers on the last date, June 11, 2018, along with an affidavit in which he declared that he does not hold any citizenship other than that of Pakistan.

The returning officer of Vawda’s constituency, NA-249 Karachi, approved his nomination papers on June 18, 2018.

It was only after getting this approval that Vawda approached the US Consulate in Karachi to relinquish his US nationality. This means that the minister had been an American citizen at the time his candidature was finalised.

Official US documents show that Vawda approached the US consulate for the revocation of his American citizenship on June 22, 2018 (Friday).

Usually, the process to relinquish a US nationality may take a couple of weeks or even months, as it requires clearance from all concerned departments of the US government.

However, the consulate issued the ‘Certificate of Loss of Nationality’ to Vawda on its next working day, which was June 25, 2018 (Monday), according to the documents obtained by The News.

Also read: CJP directs govt to not appoint dual nationals on top posts

Legal view

Three legal experts from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) agreed that whoever holds dual nationality at the time of submitting their nomination papers was set to for instant disqualification, and also agreed that the person could be penalised for perjury as well.

The top legal minds of the country even argued that the minister already stands disqualified on the bases of the previous judgments issued by the apex court.

Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, who was asked about the fate of such a lawmaker, said it was a straight case of disqualification. The minister was not told that it was Vawda who had held the dual citizenship.

But Fawad, who is also a lawyer, insisted that in such a case the National Assembly speaker has to send a reference to the ECP.

Even an ordinary citizen can challenge it in the Supreme Court or the high courts or file a reference against the parliamentarian in the ECP, Fawad said while explaining the procedure.

One of the top legal gurus of the PTI, who is said to be very close to Prime Minister Imran Khan, when contacted, said there were three possibilities in such a case.

It is pertinent to mention here that this lawyer, before giving his opinion, was told that the lawmaker in question was Vawda. He had insisted on knowing the identity of the MNA in question.

Also read: Vawda brings boot to talk show, mocks PML-N's unconditional support for Army Act bill

“There are three consequences for Faisal Vawda if it is proved that he initiated the process of renunciation of foreign citizenship after submission of the nomination papers. 1) He might be disqualified under Article 63 (1) (c) for concealing his dual nationality. (2) He might be de-seated, and (3) he can be penalized on the charges of perjury as former chief justice Saqib Nisar had added an affidavit which every candidate contesting the election has to submit with their nomination papers. In this affidavit, the candidate has to inform the ECP on oath that he doesn’t have any dual nationality. If the candidate lies on oath then he will be penalized on the charges of perjury by the Apex Court,” said the PM’s aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and PTI member Syed Ali Zafar told The News that a parliamentarian can be disqualified if it was proven that the lawmaker had hidden their dual nationality at the time of filing their nomination papers.

Also read: PM Imran bans Faisal Vawda from appearing on talk shows

Zafar was not told that the lawmaker in question was Vawda.

Besides the ruling party’s legal experts, well-respected lawyers, including retired justice Nasir Aslam Zahid and former SCBA president Kamran Murtaza also agreed that the case led to a disqualification.

Vawda’s version

A source close to Vawda alleged that the minister was not in favour of surrendering his American nationality as he was not confident about winning the election. He claimed that Vawda relinquished his nationality after he was "assured" of his victory.

The News had contacted Faisal Vawda twice to seek his version on the story.

Also read: Why aren't bureaucrats banned from holding dual nationality, asks CJP

The minister was first approached on March 27, 2019, with a set of questions via WhatsApp. However, the minister did not respond to the message.

The federal minister was once again sent the same questionnaire on April 10, 2019, but this time the minister said, “Pls [please] go ahead.” Following is the text of the questionnaire that The News had sent.

“Hello Sir, I hope you are fine. Sir, I am doing a story about your dual nationality. I will appreciate if you kindly respond to my following query. Sir, you have submitted your nomination papers on June 11, 2018. In your nomination papers, you declared on oath that you have no dual nationality. I have obtained the surrender certificate (renunciation letter) issued by US Consulate Karachi. According to these documents, you submitted your application for renouncing your US nationality on June 22, 2018. The US Consulate issued you the renunciation letter on June 25, 2018. Sir these documents prove that you misrepresented and misstated on oath. Isn’t it a violation of the Constitution and the Elections Laws?”

ECP’s failure

ECP spokesperson Nadeem Qasim, when asked about the case, said that body cannot take notice on a dual nationality of any parliamentarian on its own. Someone has to challenge the dual nationality of the said parliamentarian in an ECP tribunal, he said.

“If proved that the said parliamentarian was a foreign national at the time of filing of nomination papers then he will be disqualified,” said the spokesperson.

Also read: CJP inquires how General Raheel, Pasha were permitted foreign employment

However, Vawda’s dual citizenship did not go unchallenged.

His rival candidate Abdul Qadir Mandokhel of the PPP had approached the Sindh High Court to seek his opponent’s disqualification. But the PPP leader later withdrew his plea from the high court.

Mandokhel, when contacted, alleged that he took back his petition after facing “immense pressure” from certain quarters. He had also alleged that his party leadership had pressured him to take back his petition.

Supreme Court ruling

In the past, the Supreme Court had taken suo motu notices on such cases rather than waiting for petitions. The then-chief justice Saqib Nisar had declared that there was no need for a petition if such a case was reported by the media.

In 2018, Supreme Court disqualified PML-N's Saadia Abbasi and Haroon Akhtar for holding dual nationality at the time of filing their nomination papers. The court also ignored the fact the two lawmakers had applied for a renunciation of their American and Canadian citizenship, respectively, when they filed their papers.

“Adverting now to the matter of Ms Saadia Abbasi, it is an admitted fact that she had a dual nationality of United States of America. It is her case that she had renounced and surrendered such nationality. In support of her contention, she has filed a copy of the Statement of Understanding Concerning the Consequences and Ramifications of Renunciation or Relinquishment of US Nationality, attested on February 8, 2018, in the Consul of the United States of America; a copy of the certificate of loss of nationality of the United States dated February 13, 2018, approved on February 20, 2018; and also a copy of oath/affirmation of Renunciation of Nationality of United States dated February 8, 2018,” said the judgment.

“Obviously, Saadia Abbasi, filed her nomination papers by or before February 8, 2018, and on that date, even as per her own case, at that point of time, she was a dual national and the alleged relinquishment still under process, leaving no room for doubt that on such dates, at such point of time, even as per her own case, the renunciation of dual citizenship had not been approved. Hence, she was not qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of Senate and her nomination papers were invalid, liable to be rejected and any election thereupon void. The subsequent approval of her renunciation even with retrospective effect could not cure the defect of not being qualified in terms of section 103 of the Elections Act, 2017, which existed at that point of time, when she filed her nomination papers, on the last date of nomination papers and when her nomination papers were scrutinized. In this view of the matter, her election to the Senate is vitiated and liable to be annulled, as she was not qualified at the relevant point of time,” the ruling had said.