(Image Source: Dawn)
By Farooq Yousaf
Soon after the larger bench of the Supreme Court read out its Verdict on the Panama papers case against Prime Minister Nawaz, there were scenes of jubilation in the PML N camp, with supporters claiming victory over PTI’s Imran Khan. It seemed as if PML N’s only take away from the verdict was non-disqualification of the PM. The ruling party’s members failed to acknowledge, or understand, that the verdict was more than a case of disqualification (or non-disqualification).
All the five honourable judges in the bench were of the view that the PM’s legal counsel had failed to prove Nawaz’s innocence, and thus there was a further need for investigation by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT).
More importantly, a 194 page dissent note from Justice Saeed Ahmed Khosa speaks of future hurdles and problems the PM could face during the next stage of this case. Justice Khosa warned that the court wont shy away from setting a dangerous precedent, and dismissed all arguments or fears that might restrain the supreme court from dismissing a sitting Prime Minister.
Justice Khosa was also critical of politicians in general, and of Rehman Malik of Pakistan People’s Party in specific, for prioritising politics over justice. He was of the view that Malik failed to act upon Sharif’s money trail during his time serving as the interior minister of the country, thus pointing towards a sad state of affairs in the country when it comes to rule of law and justice.
Further criticising the contradictory statements by the PM, Justice Khosa remarked:
“Although it had specifically and repeatedly been said by respondent No. 1 [Nawaz] on the floor of the National Assembly….that the entire record relevant to the setting up and sale of the factories in Dubai and Jeddah was available and would be produced whenever required yet when this Court required Mr. Salman Aslam Butt, Sr. ASC, the then learned counsel for respondent No. 1, on December 07, 2016 to produce or show the said record he simply stated that no such record existed or was available and that the statement made by respondent No. 1 in the National Assembly in that respect was merely a “political statement”!”
Speaking of the Qatari letter, which the PML N Legal counsel presented as a major evidence in the money trail, the Justice remarked, “That story about investment in the real estate business of Al-Thani family in Qatar has taken many turns in this case and has, thus, lost its credibility.” He further said that the Qatar prince “failed to disclose how the requisite funds were transferred by respondent No. 1’s [Nawaz] father from Dubai to Qatar. He had not referred to any date or place of the transactions mentioned. He had failed to state about any document executed in furtherance of such transactions and he had also omitted to mention as to how the relevant funds were dealt with”.
Justice Khosa’s remarks on concealing of facts by the PM and his family, along with ‘elusive’ explanations of his assets also dents the PM’s position as an honest leader. On explanations of properties and assets by the legal counsel of the PM, Justice Khosa remarked,
“Instead of giving any straight answer the learned counsel for respondent No. 1 [Nawaz] maintained before this Court that the said respondent had nothing to do with acquisition of the relevant properties in London and the Court should ask the said respondent’s children about those properties… When the Court asked the learned counsel for respondents No. 7 and 8 [Hussain and Hassan Nawaz respectively] about acquisition of the relevant properties he simply maintained that such a question could satisfactorily be answered only by the said respondents’ grandfather who had died in the year 2004! Upon receipt of such responses from the learned counsel for respondents No. 1, 6, 7 and 8 the Court had repeatedly observed that the ‘strategy’ adopted by the said respondents to conceal the relevant facts from the Court…[…] Concluding the discussion about the relevant four properties in London I hold that all the varying and ever changing stories about acquisition of the said properties advanced by the children of respondent No. 1 [Nawaz] have remained un-established from the flimsy, sketchy and inadequate record relied upon by them and such stories have even otherwise been found by me to be fantastic and unbelievable.”
Finally, remarking on the honesty of the Prime Minister, Justice Khosa said:
“Constitution is relevant only to a criminal case which the present proceedings are not. Even otherwise, no such protection has been claimed by respondent No. 1 [Nawaz] before us probably realizing that claiming such protection impliedly acknowledges criminality in the matter. There may be many definitions of the word ‘honest’ but deliberate withholding or suppression of truth is not one of them and the same is in fact an antithesis of honesty. I am, therefore, constrained to declare that respondent No. 1 has not been honest to the nation, to the representatives of the nation in the National Assembly and to this Court in the matter of explaining possession and acquisition of the relevant four properties in London.”
The ruling party’s ministers and leaders soon after the verdict, yesterday, latched on to microphones installed outside the Supreme Court by various media outlets, and started singing praises and innocence of their leader, the Prime Minister. These hyper-active statements mellowed down with the passage of the day when media analysts got their hands on the full 547 page ruling.
Many would say that the ruling was a 50-50, trying to satisfy all the involved stakeholders. Many also predicted that the PM might get a landslide verdict, with the Judges dismissing all petitions against him. Yet, even though the bench decided against the PM’s dismissal on a 3-2 vote, it was those 2 judges, favouring his dismissal and writing scathing dissenting notes that has created a rather awkward situation for the Prime Minister. The onus lies on him to restore the dignity his office, his family and his party, lost because of this judgement.