NationalVolume 12 Issue # 24

Turbulence ahead

The Supreme Court hearings in the Panama case have ended, but not the drama and suspense that surround it. With the apex court having reserved its judgment, the parties to the case as well as the entire nation are in a state of suspended animation, waiting breathlessly as to what will happen next.

Last week the Supreme Court concluded the proceedings in the Panamagate case but PUT OFF announcing the final verdict. In a surprise move, the court also opened Volume X of the joint investigation team’s report, which was earlier marked “confidential”, providing a copy of the same to Nawaz Sharif’s lawyer. It may be recalled here that in their objections to the

JIT report, filed before the apex court the Sharif family and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had called the investigators’ request to withhold Volume X “mala fide”. In the course of the proceedings, the judges expressed their willingness to make Volume X public. Explaining the reasons for doing so, Justice Azmat Saeed said that the volume contained details of the JIT’s correspondence and will be of great help in clearing a number of ambiguities.

The concluding session of the SC hearings was mainly devoted to responding to the judges’ objections to the documents that Salman Akram Raja, the lawyer representing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children, had submitted a day earlier. The issue of Maryam Nawaz being the beneficial owner of the London flats was again taken up, with Justice Ejaz Afzal noting that if the ownership is not included in the [tax] returns of Capt Safdar, then the Representation of the People’s Act 1976 will be applicable.

The mood of the apex court on the concluding day was tough and businesslike. The honourable judges repeatedly shot down the defence lawyers’ argument that Nawaz Sharif could not be held responsible for any acts of omission and commission on the part of his children. They reminded that that being the holder of the highest office in the land, he was accountable for anything his family did. The judges also observed that despite all efforts by the apex court and the Joint Investigation Team, the Sharif family had failed to provide proofs of the sources of funds used to buy properties in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and London. PM Nawaz Sharif’s UAE work visa and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s accumulation of huge assets in Dubai also reverberated through the court room on the last day of the Panamagate hearings.

The three-judge bench in their concluding observations left no one in any doubt that in delivering their final verdict they will strictly abide by law and the constitution and will look at all options, including disqualification of the prime minister. This has given rise to widespread speculation in the country as to what will be the consequences if this happens. Top legal minds in the country differ whether the PM can be disqualified. Some of them are of the opinion that until and unless a direct link of the prime minister with the purchase of London flats is established, he can’t be questioned about anything regarding these flats.

One of the country’s senior-most lawyers, Abid Hassan Minto has said the Supreme Court will have to minutely examine the available evidence on the basis of which it has to take any decision. If it is proved that the London flats were purchased through ill-gotten money, the apex court can take any decision. On the other hand, Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed is of the view that if the prime minister’s family failed to establish the source of funds to purchase the London flats, this would implicate the premier as well.

Another opinion is that the apex court could also refer the case to an accountability court on the basis of the findings of the JIT, if the missing links of the London flats were not established, the court could de-notify him as an MNA. According to this view, if the prime minister and his family could not prove the money trail of the London flats, the apex court could disqualify the premier on the ground that he had failed to justify the means of his income.

In the meantime, all major parties have held consultative meetings of top party leaders to develop strategies to deal with the situation that would arise following the announcement of the reserved judgment by the apex court. Reportedly, in his meeting with advisers, PM Nawaz Sharif announced to accept whatever verdict the Supreme Court bench would deliver, but it was also decided that all legal, constitutional and political options would be utilized in case the prime minister was disqualified.

The concluding session of the SC hearings was mainly devoted to responding to the judges’ objections to the documents that Salman Akram Raja, the lawyer representing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s c hildren, had submitted a day earlier. The issue of Maryam Nawaz being the beneficial owner of the London flats was again taken up, with Justice Ejaz Afzal noting that if the ownership is not included in the [tax] returns of Capt Safdar, then the Representation of the People’s Act 1976 will be applicable.

On its part, the PTI is convinced that a disqualification verdict against the PM is in the offing but, at the same time, it is reported to have readied Plan B in case the SC decided otherwise. Rumblings of political storms ahead are in the air.

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