ISLAMABAD: While the Supreme Court is still considering whether it will appoint a commission to probe the Panamagate case, the court has made known its intention of initiating the process of accountability with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as a test case — since he has volunteered himself for scrutiny and because, as the prime minister, his responsibilities are greater than those of others.
“But this does not mean that others will get off scot-free; rather, each case will be taken one-by-one on its turn,” Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali observed while hearing identical petitions on Monday.
The court’s decision to take it upon itself to conduct a probe into allegations of illegal investments in offshore companies was described by the bench as “a bitter pill to swallow”, but was inevitable since no state institution, such as the National Accountability Bureau or the Federal Investigation Agency, was up to the task, either due to incompetence, laziness or helplessness.
The chief justice also cited the example of the second caliph, Hazrat Umar, who was once asked by a citizen to disclose where his clothes came from. CJ Jamali said that dealing with the cases of those named in the leaks after first investigating the prime minister would help dispel the impression that the court was “cherry-picking”.
Court wants to consider all evidence before taking the decision to form inquiry commission
On Monday, the children of the prime minister also submitted their replies before the court. Maryam Nawaz Sharif denied being her father’s dependant, but admitted that her family’s London flats were owned by M/s Nescoll Ltd and Nielson Enterprises Ltd. These, she claimed, were managed under a trust arrangement, whose sole beneficiary was her brother Hussain, while she was a trustee.
On the other hand, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz explained that they were non-resident Pakistanis who had been settled outside of Pakistan and were engaged in lawful businesses for around 22 and 16 years, respectively.
Though Hussain said that none of the entities or properties were owned by him before January 2006, Hassan clarified that he had never been the owner of any of the properties or the entities mentioned in the petitions.
Since none of them submitted any documentary evidence to prove their claims, the court allowed them another opportunity to submit the necessary paperwork by Nov 15. Only after going through the evidence could the Supreme Court decide whether to appoint a commission, so that it may not be handicapped in any manner and its process may not be abused by any party.
Salman Aslam Butt, counsel for the prime minister and his family members, claimed he was not able to collect all the evidence since he had to submit authentic documents and was under the impression that he would be furnishing them before the proposed commission.
However, he assured the apex court that none of the funds utilised to purchase properties abroad were ever generated in or transferred from Pakistan.
The court also said that in case it appointed the commission, its order to submit documents by Nov 15 would not curtail the authority of the commission to call any record or document from any source or to seek assistance from any private authority or institution.
CJ Jamali observed that bad governance in the country had reached such heights that the Supreme Court had to assume jurisdiction; from adjudication to investigating allegations of corruption. The lack of confidence in national institutions was widespread, otherwise the court could have referred these matters to NAB, the chief justice regretted.
During Monday’s proceedings, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed that since the prime minister’s family had not denied ownership of the entities mentioned in the petitions, the matter had become quite simple and easy to dispose. The entire case could be concluded by satisfying the court about the transparency of transactions, he said.
The respondents simply had to show the court the money used to purchase these properties was acquired through lawful and transparent means. If the explanation satisfied the court, it could give the respondents a clean chit; otherwise they would be in trouble and would have to bear the consequences enshrined in Article 62 of the Constitution, just as in the case of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani. Mr Gillani was disqualified from parliament for committing contempt of the court on June 19, 2012.
The chief justice also referred to calls for accountability of members of the judiciary, assuring everyone that an inquiry had already been initiated against the judge whose name had surfaced in the Panama Papers leaks.
The court also reiterated that it would have the discretion to take advantage of the terms of reference (ToR) furnished by the parties or to follow entirely an independent course of action.
Justice Khosa also referred to the Nov 3 incident, when Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had to intervene to defuse bad blood between Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Naeemul Haq and Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Khurram Nawaz Gandapur, saying that the Supreme Court was not a press club where press conferences could be held after every proceeding.
These observations obviously weighed on the minds of political leaders, who left the court without speaking to the press.
Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2016