Pakistan

PM Sharif to suffer consequences if money trail of London flats not proved, says SC

Panamagate

ISLAMABAD: A special three-judge Supreme Court bench seized with the findings of the Panama Joint Investigation Team (JIT) observed on Thursday that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have to face consequences if the money trail of London properties, said to be owned by his son, was not proved, ARY News reported.

 Three-judge bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, and comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, adjourned the hearing till Friday (tomorrow) after hearing the arguments of Advocate Salman Akram Raja, the legal counsel for the PM’s children.

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 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.”

Akram argued that the JIT based its findings on a letter from the UAE’s Ministry of Law and Justice and it did not even bother to confront Hussain Nawaz with the content of the letter. It did not admit the verified documents provided to it by his clients, he added.

To which, the judges observed that the JIT had approached the UAE government to verify the documents submitted by Hussain Nawaz and PM’s cousin Tariq Shafi, which later said the notary stamps on the papers were fake.

The counsel read out the UAE government’s letter and pointed out that it was stated there was no customs record to show machinery and scarp was moved from Abu Dhabi to Saudi Arabia. However, he added, the shipment record was available, which the JIT refused to accept.

The defense counsel 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.

A day before, fresh Qatari letter had surfaced, which tells the JIT that Qatari prince was ready to meet it in Doha once he gets an assurance that he is not subject to jurisdiction and laws of Pakistan and that he is not subject to any investigation or required to appear before any tribunal or court of law.

Qatari letter

Is Qatari prince ready to visit Pakistan, asked Justice Azmat Saeed and observed that if he had produced any record to substantiate the content of his letter, the matter would have been wrapped up. The Qatari prince was not ready to step out of his palace, he added.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed that the responsibility to ensure appearance of the Qatari prince before the JIT lied with Hussain since he was his key defense in the case.

Fake documents

Expressing displeasure over the submission of ‘forged documents’ in the court, Justice Azmat remarked, “You have shattered my heart into pieces. What have you done we cannot even think of. The law will take its course now.”

Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed that a person found guilty of submitting forged documents is to undergo seven years of imprisonment under law. “Seemingly, the case was about misleading the court by submitting fake documents.”

Documents submitted in the defense of the Sharif family showed that Maryam Nawaz was only a trustee of the offshore company that bought the flats.

However, the declaration, dated February 2006, was typed in the Calibri font, which was not introduced until 2007 – triggering suspicions that the document may have been forged.

The probe revealed in its report that Maryam submitted fake and manipulated documents. The probing team sent the documents submitted by her to the Radley Forensic Document Laboratory in London for forensic examination, which confirmed the Calibri was not available before Jan 31, 20017.

PTI lawyer Naeem Bukhari told the judges that he wanted to give rejoinder to the objections raised by the defense counsel tomorrow. Whereas, Ishaq Dar’s lawyer said he will also forward his arguments tomorrow.

Wednesday’s hearing

“We have become tired of asking about the money trail of the London flats, but the question still remained unanswered.” observed the bench.

The bench observed that there is no document to substantiate the ownership of the London flats and asked, “then, why the primer minister kept saying that he had all financial record of his family’s properties.

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.

He said the JIT failed to prove that Nawaz Sharif was beneficial owner of the London apartments and did not level allegations of corruption and misuse of authority against the premier.

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 Assan observed that the report was not court’s judgment. “You will be afforded an opportunity to redress grievance before trial court  if the matter is referred to it.” If his client was looking a shortcut, it would not be granted at this stage.”

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.”

He observed that if Dar’s confessional statement is considered withdrawn and his pardon would be also deemed withdrawn, restoring him to the status of co-accused.

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