Embattled Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today contested the graft charges against him and his family in the Supreme Court, saying the Panama probe panel did not produce any document to prove that he was the owner of the posh London flats which are at the centre of the high- profile case. The apex court had started hearing the scandal on Monday after the JIT submitted its final report on July 10, recommending that a corruption case be file against Sharif and his family for alleged money laundering in the 1990s, when he twice served as prime minister, to purchase assets in London. Sharif’s lawyer Khawaja Harris stressed that the JIT “did not level any specific charge of corruption against Sharif.” He also said that the JIT has not produced any document to prove that Sharif, 67, was the owner of the London flats. Harris’s arguments were directed at the six-member JIT, two of whom were from the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Military Intelligence. He said the JIT had overstepped its mandate given to it by the court and had based its findings on the documents, which were of no evidentiary value as per the Pakistani laws. If Sharif loses the case in the Supreme Court, it could cost him his premiership, throwing Pakistan into a turmoil.
Sharif has refused to quit, calling the JIT report a compilation of “allegations and assumptions”. His decision to stay in power was endorsed by the federal cabinet last week.
However, the three-member apex bench observed that Sharif has not provided the details of all assets and source of income in the form of his tax returns. Justice Ijazul Ahsan said the Sharif family has not produced any document to prove that the prime minister’s son Hussain Nawaz was the original owner of the London flats. He said JIT has found that Sharif’s daughter Maryam was the real owner of those apartments. Justice Ejaz Afzal told Sharif’s counsel that the Sharif family has not provided the money trail to establish that the London flats were legally purchased.
“We have been waiting for them since day one to come forward and provide the money trail,” he said, but added that the court would decide the case on the basis of evidence and it was not bound by the findings of the JIT.
Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh raised questions about the sources of funds used to set up the Hill Metal steel company in Saudi Arabia, which is allegedly owned by the Sharifs.
The judges appeared quite aggressive and grilled Sharif’s counsel about the source of money used to establish businesses in Gulf and the UK by the Sharif family. “The real question is where did the money for [family] properties in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and London came from? We have not yet received an answer to this fundamental question,” Justice Ijazul Ahsan said.
The bench also asked Sharif’s counsel whether the court should decide the case by its opinion over the concealment of facts or refer the case to an accountability court for trial. The counsel urged the court to decide it on merit and stressed that the JIT was biased and his client had done nothing illegal.
Later, finance minister Ishaq Dar’s counsel began his arguments but the court adjourned the case until tomorrow.
The scandal surfaced when the Panama Papers leaks last year revealed that Sharif’s sons – Hassan and Hussain – and his daughter Maryam – owned offshore companies which managed their family’s properties. The assets in question include four expensive flats in Park Lane, London.
Opposition parties say the London flats were purchased through illegal money which Sharif and his family have rejected. But so far they are unable to satisfy the court about the source of money used to purchase these properties.