ISLAMABAD: First, the Sharif family said they had acquired the London properties with the money earned by selling off their factories in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but now they have revealed that the four luxury apartments were purchased through offshore investments involving a member of the Qatari royal family.
Tuesday’s apparent flip-flop in the Supreme Court could have serious legal implications in the Panamagate case that may eventually implicate Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It also means Panamagate, which appears to be blown away due to a weak case put up by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and others, may now lead to a more serious legal battle for the ruling family than many would have anticipated earlier.
In a dramatic turn of events, the newly hired lawyer of the Sharif family sprang a surprise: a letter purportedly written by a Qatari prince in which he claims that the London properties were proceeds of their real estate businesses in which the prime minister’s father, Mian Muhammad Sharif, had invested 12 million dirhams in 1980.
Interestingly, according to the income history of the Sharif family, provided in the petitioner’s documentary evidence, their declared income in 1979-80 was Rs42,453, and they had paid Rs3,150 in taxes. In the next fiscal year, 1980-81, the family’s declared income was Rs66,686 and it had paid Rs10,683 in taxes.
Through the letter, the Sharif family tried to establish a link between the answer they had filed before the apex court last week on behalf of the prime minister’s children – Hussain Nawaz, Hassan Nawaz and Maryam Safdar – but it apparently contradicts the statements made by Sharif himself on the floor of National Assembly and in his earlier televised address to the nation.
On May 16, Sharif claimed that the London luxury flats had been purchased with the money earned from the sale of Jeddah Steel Mills, which belonged to his father. Interestingly, neither Sharif nor his children has given any statement related to the business partnership with the Qatari royal family.
Some legal wizards of the government expressed surprise over Sheikh’s fortuitous intervention at a time when the PTI was being censured in the apex court for attaching extraneous records contained in three volumes as evidence of the Sharif family’s alleged financial corruption.
During the hearing, Sheikh told the five-judge larger bench, headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, that all the documentary evidences have been submitted except one document, which is a letter of a former prime minister of Qatar, Hmag. “I will only hand over this letter for your perusal,” he stated.
Later, he submitted the letter, dated Nov 5, before the bench, which reads: “My father had longstanding business relations with Mian Muhammad Sharif, which were coordinated through my eldest brother. Our families enjoyed and continue to enjoy personal relations.” He further states in the letter that as per his understanding at that time an aggregate sum of around 12 million dirhams was contributed by Mian Sharif, originating from the sale of business in Dubai, UAE.
It further states that the London flats were registered in the ownership of two offshore companies’ bearers share certificates of which were kept during that time in Qatar. These were purchased from the proceeds of the real estate business. “On account of the relationship between the families, Muhammad Sharif and his family used the properties whilst bearing all expenses relating to the properties, including the ground rent and service charges.” The Qatari prince further claims that Mian Sharif wished that beneficiary of his investment and returns in the real estate business in his grandson Hussain Nawaz. He also reveals that in 2006, the accounts in relations to the investment were settled between the alThani family and Hussain Nawaz through which the properties were transferred to the latter.
After going through the letter, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, one of the members on the bench, observed that this is just hearsay. He also asked the counsel for the respondents that this letter also contradicts the prime minister’s statement, which he had given on the floor of the house. Justice Khosa also remarked that this document has completely changed the whole picture of case.
“Who is this gentleman? Will he appear as a witness, if we summon him?” he asked the counsel for the Sharif family. Sheikh, however, stated that he was a “foreign dignitary and high majesty”.
Justice Khosa quizzed the counsel if he wanted to say that the huge amount of money had been gifted by the foreign dignitary. Sheikh denied the property had been given as a gift to his clients. The chief justice asked the legal team of the Sharif family why they did not submit the documentary evidence on Monday.
SC expresses anger over PTI legal team:
Earlier during the proceedings, Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh, another member of the bench, expressed disappointment over the PTI legal team for not submitting relevant documentary evidence in the case. He asked PTI’s lead counsel Hamid Khan that they have submitted hundreds of documents, wherein press clippings are attached but these documents have no relevancy with the case”.
“Even the petitioner [PTI] is burying the evidence in the documents. We don’t know which lawyer represents which party,” he observed. “This is not fair for the court as well.”
Justice Azmat asked the PTI’s counsel that they have attached the investigation report of former interior minister Rehman Malik, who himself has been named in the Panama Papers. The judge, however, observed that the only first volume of documents has relevancy of the case.
The chief justice also observed that if the commission was constituted on the basis of these documents, then it would not complete the probe in next six months.
He said they were trying that the court itself should adjudicate the matter but after the submission of these documents, the matter could not be decided early, adding that each document of parties would be examined for authenticity. The chief justice also reiterated that they want to make Panama leaks a test case.
Meanwhile, the bench allowed legal teams of both parties to examine the documentary evidence of each other and adjourned the hearing till tomorrow (Thursday). The bench also dismissed all fresh petitions for becoming party in the Panamagate case.
Additional concise statement
The Sharif family states that Imran Khan had supported the military regime of Musharraf and backed illegal and unconstitutional referendum for allowing him to remain president of the country. “Such illegal act of the petitioner in the titled petition per se disentitles him to seek any relief from the court in the titled petition.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2016.