ISLAMABAD (NNI): The Supeme Court of Pakistan Bench comprised of three judges seized with the findings of the Panama Joint Investigation Team (JIT) took great exception to the fact that there was no document on record to prove the ownership of London flats.
“We have been tired of asking about the money trail of the London flats, but the question still remained unanswered.” observed the bench. The apex court bench, comprising Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Ijazul Ahsan put off the hearing till Thursday (tomorrow) when the counsel for the PM’s children will begin his contentions. The bench observed that there is no document to substantiate the ownership of the London flats and asked, “then why the primer minister stated that he had all financial record of the family’s properties.
During hearing, Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed, “The fundamental question is about how and when Avenfield flats in an upscale London neighborhood came to be in the possession of the Sharif family, and how money was arranged and remitted to London to purchase these flats. Whether the money was remitted from Saudi Arabia or Qatar.”
In his concluding arguments, Harris emphasized that neither the prime minister could be disqualified nor the matter can be referred to trial court on the basis of the JIT findings, for these, at best, did not prove any wrongdoing against his client. Nor did the observations of the JIT warranted his trial under Section 5/A of the NAB Ordinance, he added. At the outset, Khawaja read out the statement of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he had recorded before the probing team and argued that his client was not beneficial owner of the London properties, nor did he have any asset other than those declared in his nomination papers and before the JIT.
He stressed that the premier had not concealed any fact from the investigators and honestly answered all questions put to him by the JIT members. Harris insisted there was no connection between the PM and London flats, neither did the JIT proved the PM’s ownership of London flats.
Tariq Hassan, the counsel for Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, contended that the JIT observations against his client were not based on reality and were false and fabricated. His client had deliberately been dragged into the controversy, he added. The counsel said that JIT exceeded its mandate and accused his client of withholding tax returns, concealing assets, and tax evasion. Justice Ijazul Hassan observed that the report was not court’s judgment. “You will be afforded an opportunity to defend yourself before trial if the matter is referred to it.”
The lawyer’s objection that his client was dragged into the matter and had no direct connection, whatsoever, with the allegations of money laundering, invited the ire of the judges. Justice Ijazul Ahsan chided the counsel and said, “I tell you the connection of Ishaq Dar. He and his son were named in the Gulf Steel Mills case. He had association with Hill Metal Establishment. He turned approver and gave a confessional statement in Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, which brought details of financial transactions of Sharifs to light.”
Justice Ijazul Ahsan had observed that the court had repeatedly been asking one question for a year to provide money trail of the London flats. An answer to that question will bring an end to this entire controversy, he added. “We again ask you to apprise us of the money trail,” said Justice Azmat Saeed while addressing the lawyer. Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed that the idea of constitution of the JIT was meant to give the defendants another opportunity to provide the required documents and satisfy the JIT, but he said the money trail of the Avenfield flats remained shrouded in mystery even to this day.
The judges observed, “We have to examine material, not views of the JIT members.” Referring to the PM’s lawyer’s objections, the judges said, “You complain that the defendant was not given a fair hearing, but when questions about London flats’ ownership were put to him by the JIT his response was “I don’t know.” “All defendants were given an opportunity to give answers, documents and trail papers of their properties,” they observed. Justice Ijazul Ahsan remarked that facts were kept hidden from the JIT. When the PM was asked about the ownership of London flats, he feigned ignorance and said the flats ‘probably’ belonged to Hussain Nawaz. The judge further said that “We are telling you what the PM and his children stated before the JIT.”
In his arguments, PM’s lawyer Khawaja Harris said that the JIT recommended to reopen 15 cases against Sharifs, even though it was not mandated to recommend the opening of cases as some of them have already been decided by the courts. These cases have no links with the ruling family’s flats in a posh London neighborhood, he added. The lawyer told the judges that the JIT had exceeded its mandate and asked more than 15 questions instead of 13 set by the apex court. Harris contended that the report was based on bias and political motivation and pleaded with judges to throw out it.
He said, the JIT members exceeded their jurisdiction and accused it of blatantly violating the mandate conferred on its members to seek Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) by engaging private firms, particularly the one belonging to a relative of the JIT head Wajid Zia. “All the evidence collected by the JIT could not be used against any of the defendants for the purpose of evidence,” he added. He also raised objections to the composition of the JIT, more specifically the role of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) representative retired brigadier Muhammad Nauman Saeed.