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SC to ascertain ‘conflict of interest’ in PM’s actions

ISLAMABAD: As a new bench of the Supreme Court resumed hearing of the contentious Panama Papers case on Wednesday, it sought a complete timeline of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s holding of past public offices to determine a possible conflict of interest in overseeing family business and officiating important government positions at the same time.

Headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, the five-judge SC bench asked Makhdoom Ali Khan, the newly engaged counsel for the prime minister, to apprise the court of the dates when Mr Sharif became the PM twice, Punjab’s chief minister as well as the provincial finance minister and when he was out of the country during Pervez Musharraf’s government.

The court asked for the dates against the backdrop of his interview to a private television channel in which he stated that he had parted ways with the family business in 1997.

The question became relevant in view of the allegations of a conflict of interest, especially when there was no money trail in the shape of banking transactions to establish how sale proceeds of the Gulf Steel Mills in the UAE got invested in Jeddah or Qatar, Justice Khosa observed, wondering whether the then prime minister was using his official position for the transfer of the money.
Panama Papers case to be heard on a daily basis

Explaining further, Justice Khosa observed that it was in 1999 that the family of the prime minister went to Saudi Arabia and it seemed that as sum of 12 million dirham — proceeds from the sale of Gulf Steel — remained parked somewhere and was even available for investment in Jeddah after a gap of almost two decades.

Read: PML-N papers: How the Gulf Steel Mills were born

The court, which commenced hearing in a packed-to-capacity room No 2, also made it clear that it would not grant any adjournment on any pretext and continue hearing day to day till the conclusion of the case.

Though intermittent rains made the weather pleasant outside, it was not so cool inside. The first half of the proceedings witnessed disturbances as people tried in vain to get into a room which was already overflowing with people.

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Ejaz Afzal asked Naeem Bokhari, the counsel for Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, to explain the concept of justice. “Does it mean justice according to the perception of his client or what the court decides in accordance with the law,” he asked.

The judge also told the senior counsel that he would have a concrete case if he established that the proceeds from the Gulf Steel sale or the assets at the relevant point of time remained parked in the accounts of the prime minister for some time. Otherwise, it would be a wild goose chase.

“After all at the end of the day, we will seek assistance of some counsel to determine what constitutes disqualification of the respondent [PM] for not being Sadiq [truthful] and Ameen [honest] under Article 62 of the Constitution,” another bench member Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed observed.

But, in a lighter vein, he added that “don’t make us interpret the meaning of Sadiq and Ameen in such a way that contesting elections by politicians becomes almost impossible in future”.

Bokhari alleged that the prime minister misstated in his April 5, 2016 address to the nation and May 16 statement before parliament when he claimed that the sale proceeds of the Gulf Steel are worth 33.37m dirham. He described it a false assertion, not corroborated with subsequent supplementary statements made by his three children — Maryam, Hussain and Hassan.

But Justice Afzal wondered whether this admission amounted to any guilt and led to any illegality. The judge also inquired about any UAE law allowing an individual to possess and carry a huge amount of money outside Dubai bypassing banking transactions. Does this amount to commission of a crime and if yes then what implication violation of Dubai law will bring to Pakistan, he asked.

Justice Khosa asked the counsel if his entire case hinged around establishing that the ruling family owned the four London flats prior to 2006.

Justice Khosa also wondered about any will, court decree or a family settlement to establish that the London properties as claimed by Hussain Nawaz would be automatically inherited by him in 2006 after the death of his grandfather, Mian Sharif, in 2004.

Bokhari asked the court to summon Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to explain how London’s Queen Bench Division order in the Al Towfeek Company case was satisfied which had ordered the defendants — Hudaibiya Paper Mills Ltd, Shahbaz Sharif, Mian Mohammad Sharif, the father of the prime minister, and Mian Mohammad Abbas Sharif, the late uncle of the prime minister, to pay 34m pounds.

Shahbaz Sharif should tell the court how without the sanction of the State of Pakistan, 34m pounds was paid to satisfy the judgement without seeking prior permission of the State Bank of Pakistan, needed even if money had to be borrowed from any lending company outside the country to pay back liabilities.

Bokhari also sought a direction against National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry for moving a belated appeal before the Supreme Court against the March 11, 2014 Lahore High Court judgement which had rejected the NAB’s plea of opening corruption references against Sharifs’ in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case.

The NAB chairman should be issued a show-cause notice under Article 209 of the Constitution (Supreme Judicial Council (SJC)) because he committed misconduct and dereliction of duties for failing to move the appeal, he said.

However, the court clarified it can only make a reference to the SJC and cannot issue any notice.

Bokhari also sought a declaration that the four Avenfield flats in London were purchased by the Sharif’s family from 1993 to 1996 from sources that were never disclosed. Since transaction of the purchase of these properties never surfaced and these were the outcome of money laundering, therefore, these flats belonged to the state and the people of Pakistan, he added.

Similarly, the gifts of Rs740m to the prime minister from his sons were income from other sources and, therefore, liable to be taxed. The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) should be ordered to recover the tax and if the court reached to the conclusion that the tax was due, then the prime minister had incurred disqualification under Article 63 of the Constitution, the senior lawyer said.

The court should hold that the documents released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) after years of forensic investigations were authentic, especially when the children of the prime minister were given the opportunity to rebut the allegations but they kept quiet, Bokhari argued.

Likewise, the letter of a Qatari prince, Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani, claiming that the Sharif family made investments in Al-Thani family business through the Dubai sale proceeds was an afterthought and complete concoction that had completely destroyed the credibility of the prime minister, the counsel said.

courtesy : dawn news

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