ISLAMABAD: The ‘untimely disclosure’ of an ‘exclusive’ letter by a Sharif family lawyer during the Panamagate case hearing in the Supreme Court has caught the PML-N top cadre by surprise. Informed quarters in the PML-N believe that the disclosure of the letter supposedly written by a Qatari prince drew unnecessary criticism and created problems for the Sharif family in the case.
In a dramatic turn of events on Tuesday, Akram Sheikh, a member of the Sharif family’s legal team, presented before the larger bench the letter which he said had been written by Qatari Prince Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al Thani. Surprisingly, Sheikh made the disclosure at a time when the PTI legal team was on the back foot for its failure to come up with compelling evidence to establish its allegations of financial corruption against the Sharif family.
The letter states that the Qatari royal family had longstanding business ties with the Sharif family, and the London properties had been given to the Sharif family as proceeds of their investment in real estate business in Qatar. Never before had the Sharif family disclosed this.
The bench refused to buy Sheikh’s contention and observed that the letter apparently contradicted the previous stance of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the London properties had been purchased with the money earned from the sale of a factory in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, set up by his deceased father, Mian Muhammad Sharif.
In background interviews with The Express Tribune, PML-N circles said the Qatari prince’s letter had to be presented only when everything failed to convince the bench. “It was a wrong decision taken at a wrong time,” said a senior PML-N leader with good understanding of legal issues. “There was hardly any need to open a new Pandora’s Box,” he added.
Sheikh’s move has raised eyebrows in the top PML-N hierarchy. “There has already been a feeling that it was probably not the right decision to change the lawyer in the middle of the case. You don’t change horses in midstream,” one insider said.
The bench was apparently unimpressed by stacks of pages the PTI legal team has submitted as ‘evidence’ of the offshore companies of the Sharif family because they were largely based on press clippings. “In a scenario where things were going our favour, what prompted him [Sheikh] to bring in the Qatari prince’s letter? This is incomprehensible,” the insider said.
Another PML-N leader said the Nov 7 proceedings in the apex court in which Sharif’s children had been asked to furnish proof the London properties had been purchased legally had set off alarm bells in the party’s camp. “In panic, the party took some decisions, including replacement of its lead counsel Salman Aslam Butt with Sheikh, and to get the letter from Qatari prince,” he added. According to sources, Butt had travelled to Qatar to receive the letter from the royal family.
A third PML-N leader said that some of Sharif’s legal aides had not been in favour of hiring Sheikh’s services, but the top leadership wanted to pursue the case ‘aggressively’. “An aggressive Sheikh was preferred over a calm Butt when it looked things were slipping out of our hands,” he said.
Sharif’s aide Amir Muqam, however, sought to quash the impression of panic in the ruling party’s camp after Tuesday’s proceedings. “No need to blow things out of proportions. Whether the Qatari prince’s letter is real or not has to be decided by the apex court. The matter is sub judice, so we should avoid speculating,” he told The Express Tribune.
Muqam said the bench has questioned the credibility of PTI’s ‘stacks of papers’ presented as evidence. “They [PTI] should have sleepless nights, not us. Since they have levelled the allegations, they should prove them.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2016.