Pakistan

‘Panamagate’: Supreme Court ends hearing in corruption charges against PM, reserves decision

ISLAMABAD: Amid the speculations revolving around either Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif gets disqualified or emerged stronger with regard to the Supreme Court’s possible judgment, the top court on Friday reserved its verdict after wrapping up fifth and final hearing of the ‘Panama Papers‘ case. 

The date for announcement of the verdict will be released later.

The court heard arguments from both the sides – government counsel and the opposition disputing prime minister’s claims in the case – and concluded its hearing today.

During the final hearing today, Advocate Salman Akram Raja, the legal counsel for the PM’s children, resumed his arguments with the beginning of hearing for the fifth consecutive day.

On the bench remarks about February 4, 2006 was a holiday in Britain, Raja informed the bench that there are several law firms in London that operate on Saturdays, to which the bench agreed.

He clarified that his predecessor Akram Sheikh may have made a pen-pushing mistake which led to a confusion of dates concerning ownership of offshore companies by the premier’s children.

The counsel of premier’s children said that his clients cannot even think of submitting forged documents before the court.

Hearing his arguments, the bench ordered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s counsel Khawaja Harris to study specific sections of Volume X of the JIT’s final report.

Following the arguments of the counsel of PM’s children, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s counsel Dr Tariq Hassan began presenting his arguments before the bench.

Informing the bench about questions posed to him earlier this week, Dr Tariq Hassan said he has submitted 34-year records of his client. “I do hope this will answer the court’s queries,” he said.

To which Justice Ijaz observed that there is sufficient material against Ishaq Dar even if the Hudabiya Paper Mills is kept aside for a moment.

Dar’s counsel said that he has no employment records of the finance minister when he served as an adviser to a Middle Eastern royal family.

“The bench will examine all the documents in detail,” Justice Ejaz remarked.

Hassan contended that his client has become exhausted of this prolonged accountability test. “This needs to be stopped,” he remarked.

“My client has appeared before the JIT as a witness but it apparently seems that he was a suspect,” he further said.

Justice Ijaz also observed that Dar’s son transferred funds to Hill Metals Establishment.

‘VOLUME X’ OF THE JIT REPORT

During the hearing session, the bench directed for the production of Volume X of the JIT report while Justice Azmat observing that they will also make the content of Volume X public as the top court intends to keep everything transparent.

Volume X of the JIT’s final report has been kept confidential at time of submission to the Supreme Court.

The probing team had asked the top court not to make it public as it contained material and content with regard to ongoing investigation with international cooperation against the Sharif family.

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

DEFINING MOMENTS: OPPOSITION LEADERS

Addressing the media outside the Supreme Court of Pakistan before the hearing session, Awami Muslim League (AML) Chief Sheikh Rasheed said that the defining moments have come in the landmark Panama Papers case, as the court likely to give its final judgment.

Appearing optimistic, he said the demand of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation has become the demand of millions.

Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Sirajul Haq, who is also another petitioner in the case besides AML chief, said that the Supreme Court’s decision is to set a precedent while terming it defining moments.

Wishing for elimination of corruption as result of the decision, the JI chief said: “Unfortunately Pakistan is the only country in the world where the rulers think themselves above the law.”

Anticipating a fair judgment upholding the accountability and setting a precedent, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi argued that his party is in the forefront in the case for the rule of law.

Subsequently, Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) senior leader Sherry Rehman said: “If you [Prime Minister] don’t recognise this accountability then you are questioning the Supreme Court.”

She made these remarks in response of the premier’s statement that its not accountability but exploitation. The PM was addressing a public gathering yesterday (Thursday) during inauguration of Lowari Tunnel when he decried the Panamagate probe while lashing out at the JIT and the PTI.

Rehman opined that if such remarks were made by a Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) PM what PM Sharif had said in Upper Dir, the PPP PM would have been facing contempt of court charges.

“PM Nawaz Sharif is making every state institution controversial,” Sherry said while urging the premier to step down.

THURSDAY’S HEARING   

The hearing on Thursday apparently proved to be difficult for counsel of the premier’s children Salman Akram Raja for he kept battling for convincing the bench that Nawaz’s children were not involved in any wrongdoing and the allegations levelled against them should be investigated at a proper forum.

The defense counsel also submitted 169-page long written objections on the JIT findings about his clients along with certain documents, including a new letter from Qatari prince Hamad Bin Jassam in the court. Documents included those acquired from Abu Dhabi customs to show that how scrap and machinery of the Gulf Steel Mills moved from Dubai after it went bankrupt.

Justice Sheikh Azmat came down hard on the defense counsel for leaking these documents to media before placing them before the court and said, “You released the documents to the media, you better give arguments in front of it. A dais was placed outside the court, go deliver arguments there as well.”

To which, the counsel said he was not aware of how these documents came to be in possession of media.

The judges observed that the question regarding the money trail of the London flats still stood unanswered. “Burden of proof lies with the properties’ owner to prove the money trail. If the money trail is not established, the public office holder (PM) will have to bear the brunt of repercussions,” remarked a member of the bench.

Justice Azmat observed, “it is unclear where did funds come from, but the one who derived benefits from the properties was in front of us.”

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