Panama Papers case: SC takes up JIT report, PML-N files objections

As the Supreme Court (SC) resumed hearing the Panama Papers case on Monday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and the Sharif family’s lawyers submitted separate objections to the “damning” final report of the joint investigation team (JIT) that probed allegations of money laundering against the Sharif family.

A three-member apex bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, and comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Hassan, began hearing the case as it returned to the SC after nearly two months.

In the objections filed separately before the SC, the Sharif family and the finance minister rejected the JIT report and argued that the team had exceeded its mandate.

PTI counsel’s arguments

Putting forward his arguments before the apex bench, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) lead counsel Naeem Bukhari highlighted certain findings from the JIT report, including the alleged false testimony of Tariq Shafi, who is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s cousin and a key respondent in the case.

Shafi recorded a false testimony earlier regarding an agreement that he made in 1980 with Abdullah Kayed Ahli, the owner of Ahli Steel Company, Dubai in which Shafi held 25 per cent shares, said Bukhari.

According to Shafi’s testimony, under the agreement signed at the time of the sale of the Sharif family’s Gulf Steel Mills, Shafi’s shares in Ahli’s company were sold and a net aggregate sum of 12million dirhams was agreed upon.

Shafi stated that he had deposited the massive sum with Sheikh Fahad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani of Qatar, after receiving each instalment from Mohammad Abdullah Kayed Ahli.

The JIT sought legal assistance from the United Arab Emirates [in conducting its investigations] and found that the transaction of 12 million dirhams never took place, Bukhari said.

“It was claimed that the Gulf Steel Mills were sold for 33million dirhams,” Bokhari said, arguing that this was not the case and the Sharif family had been unable to clear its position regarding the mills.

“According to the JIT, the funds for investment in Qatar were not available [to the Sharif family],” Justice Ijazul Hassan observed.

Maryam and the four London flats

The trust deed of the four flats located in London’s upscale Park Lane neighbourhood, executed between Maryam Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz ─ the prime minister’s children ─ in February 2006, was found to be false by the JIT, Bukhari told the apex bench.

Salman Akram Raja, the counsel representing the prime minister’s sons in the Panamagate case, had argued before the SC in February that bearer certificates of the flats had remained with Maryam between February and July 2006. However, they were cancelled upon execution of the trust deed and registered under Minerva Services Limited ─ an entity that appointed directors for the two offshore companies, Nielson Enterprises Ltd and Nescoll Ltd, that owned the four flats.

The JIT, however, found that the font used in the trust deed was not available in 2006 and declared the deed to be fabricated, Bukhari argued. “No trust deed was signed after the bearer certificates were cancelled,” he said. “The JIT has found Maryam to be the beneficial owner of the London flats.”

PML-N calls JIT report “incomplete”

Speaking to reporters outside the SC, PML-N’s Daniyal Aziz claimed that the judges had raised questions about the JIT report. “These documents have now become questionable and the process has become suspicious due to certain factors, like the secret Vol 10 [of the report], and the MLA [citations] that have not been confirmed and are doubtful because they are not sourced according to the Qanoon-i-Shahadat order,” he claimed.

The report is spread over 10 volumes, the last of which pertains to matters of international jurisdiction. “In all the rush, the report hasn’t even been completed,” Aziz claimed.

“It says ‘ongoing’ right in the middle. It seems they are hoping for more proof to surface overnight. Even Naeem Bukhari has said that their investigation is ongoing.”

Demands for PM to step down

Prior to the hearing, opposition leaders, including Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid, arrived at the apex court and spoke to the media, reiterating their demand for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation.

“Nawaz Sharif does not hold ‘high moral ground’ after the JIT report, which is why he should step down,” Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) leader Dr Farooq Sattar said. “PML-N has to decide what advice they will give to their leader, keeping in mind the interests of the country.”

The PML-N strategy in light of the report that was submitted to the SC last week remained unclear till the hearings began on Monday.

The prime minister spent Sunday holding consultative meetings with his legal and political teams to frame the family’s stance and devise a strategy to counter political rivals.

Quoting Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, Dawn reported that Khawaja Harris, Akram Sheikh, Salman Akram Raja and Barrister Zafarullah are on the team representing various members of the ruling family.

In its immediate reaction to the report, the Sharif family and the ruling party dismissed the declarations made therein and the prime minister has refused all calls to step down.