Wait’s Over: Panama Papers Verdict Today

  • Revisiting arguments given during 50 days from Jan 4 to Feb 23
  • Lawyers hopeful that verdict will be in accordance with law, constitution

The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) is all set to announce the verdict of Panamagate case today (Thursday) at 2pm that it reserved on February 23, 2016. Amidst rumours and anxiety, SCP announced day before yesterday the date and time for the announcement of judgment in its supplementary cause list.

The five-member Supreme Court bench, while reserving the judgment in the high-profile Panama case, said that a detailed verdict at an appropriate time will be issued, and no short order was issued.

Originally, Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali-led five-member bench took up petitions filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Awami Muslim League and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) on November 1, 2017, and the bench conducted a total of nine hearings till his retirement on December 30, 2016. With the retirement of Justice Jamali, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar formed a new bench led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa to hear the Panama case from the scratch.

The new bench started hearing the case on January 4, 2017, onwards with PTI’s counsel Advocate Naeem Bukhari bringing the arguments. Bukhari’s arguments were centered on ownership of London flats by Sharif family prior to 2006, Maryam Nawaz being the beneficial owner and not the trustee of offshore companies, sources of investments for setting up steel mills in Dubai and Jeddah, gifts given by Sharif families to each other and questions regarding the veracity of claims made by a Qatari prince’s letter.

PM’s counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan argued that his client has nothing to do with the matter before the court, denying the involvement of the prime minister regarding the ownership of London flats. When court questioned over the Dubai factory, he argued that the court may form a commission to visit Dubai and look into the allegations. Makhdoom also invoked Article 66 of the constitution that deals with the privilege of the members of the assemblies when the matter of his address to the nation and speech were raised by the bench.

The main contention of the prime minister’s counsel was that the Supreme Court cannot disqualify the premier without a prior declaration or on basis of statements and claims. He also argued that Maryam Nawaz was not a dependent of the prime minister as alleged by the petitioner. He also furnished the details of the gifts given by Sharif family to each other during the past decade. Makhdoom cited a plethora of laws as examples from the judicial systems around the globe to validate his claim.

Jamaat’s counsel Advocate Taufeeq Asif, who was previously rebuked by the bench for not making PM respondent in their application nor prayed for his disqualification, filed a new application demanding Nawaz’s disqualification for his involvement in “illegal money/funds transferred abroad and illegal investments in offshore company and concealing the property outside Pakistan and be disqualified for not being Sadiq and Amin under Article 62 (1) (F).”

Asif faced a tough time during the whole length of his arguments as the bench repeatedly reprimanded him for the lack of preparedness and reminded him to remain relevant. The counsel singlehandedly focused on PM’s speech on the floor of the house and address to the nation.

Shahid Hamid, representing Maryam Nawaz, her husband Captain Safdar and Senator Ishaq Dar, submitted an additional statement by Maryam in which she denied being her father’s dependent. He argued whether Mariyam was dependent of her father, scope of Article 184 (3), interview given by her to a television programme in 2011 among others. As Hamid argued about Maryam’s dependence, Justice Khosa remarked that the allegations against Mariyam were inseparable from her father.

Furthermore, he also claimed that signatures of her client on documents linking her to Minera Financial services were forged; the bench reminded Hamid of not digging holes in petitioner’s documents, especially when he has produced nothing. As Hamid ventured on to argue on behalf of Ishaq Dar, whom he is also representing, the things went south fast when his ‘confessional’ statement admitting money laundering on behalf of the Sharif family to a tune of 14 million dollars in Hudaibiya Paper Mills case surfaced.

The bench ordered the NAB’s prosecutor general to submit Dar’s confession and assist the court along with the record of reference. Salman Akram Raja, counsel for Hassan and Hussain, took the podium after NAB prosecutor general submitted Dar’s confession. The bench asked him why an appeal was not filed. He said that the decision was taken in a high-level meeting not to file the case. The court ordered him to present the minutes of the meeting.

Raja submitted a plethora of documents related to the establishment of the Dubai factory. The documents included a letter of the Qatari royal in which he acknowledged investment of 12 million Dirhams and annexes agreements, including land rent, letter of credit, sale and purchase in steel plant, etc. Akram said that he’ll cover his client’s role in the matter before the bench, inconsistencies between the speeches and interviews, beneficial ownership of his client, and determine facts as they might have unfolded.

The hearing remained adjourned for first two weeks of February due to Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed suffering a sudden heart attack. Raja concluded his arguments on the point that a commission can only give an opinion based on its inquiry. However, the revelation came to the fore when he admitted that the London flats remained in Maryam’s name for six months during 2006.

Both the chairmen of NAB and FBR earned ire of the court during their brief presence in the court, where FBR chief was reprimanded for his delay in sending the notices, lack of appropriate action, and failure to take appropriate steps in the wake of Panama Papers. The NAB chief also failed to satisfy the court on his failure to file an appeal against 2014 high court decision of quashing Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference.

The PTI counsel reiterated the points he made in his arguments and prayed that the statements made by the prime minister in his address to the nation and speech made in the parliament be taken as true and questioned the honesty of PM Nawaz. In his speech, Imran emphasised the importance of honest leadership and hinted that he won’t mind being disqualified by the court or ECP if found guilty.

“We expect this judgment to be a historical one that will lead the political and legal history of Pakistan in a positive direction,” said Supreme Court Advocate Chaudhary Faisal, who is also part of PTI legal team in Panamagate Case, while talking to Pakistan Today. Advocate Faisal said that the verdict of SCP will help rid the parliament of corrupt and dishonest politicians. “I expect that SCP will issue a judgment like it did in the dual nationality case. I expect it will help eradicate the menace of corruption from the top,” he added. When asked what PTI’s expectations were about the judgment, Faisal said that their party will honour and accept the top court’s judgment.

Advocate Salman Akram Raja, counsel of Hassan and Hussain Nawaz Sharif said he was hoping the decision will be in accordance with law. “Students of law will be satisfied by the decision; it might not fulfil the expectations of media,” he said while referring to frenzy whipped up during Panamagate hearing and afterwards.

SCBA former president and notable lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar said: “I don’t see the PM being disqualified, however, there is a possibility of sanctions.”