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SC proposes setting up Panamagate probe commission

ISLAMABAD: Dissatisfied with the way parties to the Panama Papers leaks hearing developed their case over nine days of proceedings, the Supreme Court on Wednesday proposed constituting a commission to hold an extensive inquiry into the matter.

When the five-judge larger bench resumed hearing in the courtroom No.1 after the morning tea-break, Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali asked the counsel for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan to come up with their stance after seeking instructions on forming the inquiry commission.

The last time the court advanced a similar proposition was on Nov 1, a day ahead of the PTI’s proposed lockdown of Islamabad, though earlier on May 13 it had declined to accept the federal government’s plea to appoint a commission to probe the allegations levelled in the case.

“Can the Supreme Court disqualify a person in a summary manner and on contradictory facts after going through voluminous documents submitted by both sides, the authenticity of which has also been challenged,” the chief justice observed.

“When ultimately we have to go to the constitution of the commission then why [we are] wasting time at this stage,” wondered the chief justice, saying the thrust of the arguments presented by the petitioners was on corruption by questioning the money trail to buy four London flats.

Advocate Naeem Bokhari, representing Imran Khan, however, sought a day for consultation and to come up with an answer.

Additional Attorney General Muhammad Waqar Rana told the court that both Salman Aslam Butt, who represents the prime minister, and Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf had gone to the premier to seek instructions.

Mr Butt requested the court to exclude the prime minister from the ambit of the commission since his name had never surfaced in the Panama Papers leaks, the Hudabiya Papers Mills case or the documents placed on record by the petitioners.

Not a small thing

The ruler of the time is being called to the court which is not a small thing, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, a member of the bench, observed, saying Islam is full of such examples.

But the court wants to ascertain the facts on surer footings since this case will become a precedent for future disqualifications and therefore places a serious and heavy responsibility on the court’s shoulders from which they were not shrugging off, Justice Khosa explained.

The court can decide the matter to its satisfaction and not to the satisfaction of the parties on the basis of available documents, Justice Khosa observed but at the same time cautioned the parties that then everybody would be at risk since the gaps in the facts could go in favour of the suspect [prime minister] or the other party.

About Qatari Prince Hamad bin Jasim’s letter, the judge said its authenticity needed verification.

Can we disqualify the prime minister on sketchy documents, Justice Khosa wondered, adding “we continue for days to satisfy ourselves but when facts themselves need probe then politics can wait so that justice cannot be compromised”.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, however, told the counsel that going through the documents placed by the prime minister made it clear that not every question had been answered. “You have left many questions unanswered,” he said.

There are many other documents authenticity of which have been questioned by the petitioner like the trust deed reached between the children or the 1980 tripartite agreement between the Gulf Steel Mills Dubai, Bank of Credit and Commerce International and the prime minister’s cousin Tariq Shafi.

Besides, the judge regretted, other offshore companies with their addresses in London — Minerva Services and Minerva Holdings — had surfaced but nobody knew who owned them and who their shareholders were.

Other petitioners’ request

The chief justice pointed out that the petitions of Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq and Tariq Asad had asked for the commission while PTI chief Imran Khan had even proposed the terms of reference for such a commission.

When Naeem Bokhari reminded the court that his client was pressing for the disqualification of the prime minister under Article 62 and 63 for making contradictory speeches in parliament, the chief justice retorted that the PTI had already availed of the proper forum in invoking the jurisdiction of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

“Already this court has overstretched its jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution in the background of the Panama Papers leaks and not on the basis of the speeches,” the chief justice observed.

He observed that before constituting the commission the court would provide a proper time frame to complete the probe involving the prime minister’s close relatives for making investments in the offshore companies in case no consensus was reached between the parties.

The commission will be headed by a Supreme Court judge exercising similar authority as that of the apex court’s the report of which, whenever it’s finalised, will be taken up by the Supreme Court again for a binding order. The commission will be free to seek assistance from any state institution or an independent source.

Earlier, Mr Butt surprised the court when he said it was very difficult to provide 40 years’ old document, especially when no facilities of fax, email or telephone were available in those days and Dubai was only a desert. Even the banks in London and Dubai removed their data after five years, he added.

The counsel was asked to substantiate that even after the sale of Gulf Steel Mills in Dubai and clearing of all the liabilities, the Sharif family still had Dirham12 million to invest in Saudi Arabia or Qatar.

He cited a 2012 Lahore High Court judgment in which the National Accountability Bureau was reprimanded and fined for sealing and taking away all the records at the time when Mr Sharif was in exile during the Musharraf regime.

At this Justice Khosa regretted that the counsel was pursuing a very dangerous line of argument by saying he did not have any record or did not remember old transactions.

courtesy: dawn news

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