ISLAMABAD: When the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) legal team on Thursday apparently failed in pleading its case against the Sharif family, a judge pointed towards two documents present in its own petition that implicate the premier’s daughter Mariam Safdar as ’ultimate beneficial owner’ of offshore companies as revealed by the Panama Papers.
A huge collection of classified documents leaked from Panama-based firm, Mossack Fonseca, in April this year, the Panama Papers revealed that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s three scions owned offshore companies in international tax havens.
The Sharif family has been trying to exculpate Maryam from the leaks saga by claiming before a Supreme Court larger bench – hearing a slew of petitions in connection with the scandal – that she was only ‘trustee’ of luxury properties in London that were purchased through two offshore companies.
Visibly perturbed over lengthy arguments of the PTI’s lead counsel Hamid Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed – a member of five-judge bench with expertise in money laundering matters – remarked that the PTI has a good case but it is not being able to present it convincingly.
“You have a good case but you are doing politics on it,” Justice Saeed remarked. Later, he drew attention of the PTI counsel to important documents attached on pages 37 and 38 of the PTI’s petition.
Interestingly, in these documents Maryam has been declared direct owner of two offshore companies – Nescoll Limited and Neilson Enterprises Limited.
The documents are purported ‘confidential’ communication between British Virgin Islands’s Financial Investigation Agency and Mossack Fonseca’s Money Laundering Reporting Officer J Nizbeth Maduro. In the said communication, the watchdog on June 12, 2012 sought details and ‘ultimate beneficial owners’ of both these offshore companies.
In two separate letters, addressed to the Financial Investigation Agency’s then director Errol Georg, Mossack Fonseca’s reporting officer on June 22, 2012 replied; “The beneficial owner of the company is Mariam Safdar.”
The Reporting Officer Maduro provided the watchdog the same details for both companies with Mariam as owner. Her address in the documents is mentioned as Saroor Palace, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“Two shares have been issued in the company. A copy of Register of Shareholders is attached for ease of reference,” Maduro wrote. “We do not have information of any company/(ies) connected to/associated with the company. The company has a loan account with Deuche Bank Geneva,” he added.
The legal experts say that these two letters, which have been pointed out by SC’s judge, may weaken the stance of Sharif family that Hussain Nawaz is beneficial owner of the luxury flats in London and Mariam is only a trustee.
The PTI in its documentary evidences has also submitted one of the certificates – dated February 7, 2006 and bearing Mariam’s signs – which show her as a ‘sole shareholder’ of Nescoll limited – one of the two companies that allegedly owned the Sharif family’s properties in London as revealed in the Panama Papers.
“The undersigned Maryam Safdar, being the sole shareholder of the company, hereby confirms the adoption of the following resolutions. It was noted LZ Nominees Limited was reappointed as a nominee director of the company,” one of the certificates said.
Bad day for PTI
During the proceedings of Panamgate case on Thursday, the judges came down hard on PTI’s lawyers for failing to come up with a strong argument in favour of their petition seeking disqualification of the prime minister.
“Today is a bad day for the PTI team,” a PTI legal team member admitted.
When PTI’s lead counsel Hamid Khan took more than one hour in reading three different speeches of the PM, Justice Azmat asked him to focus on the issue in question.
Instead of reading long speeches of the PM, you should examine each document presented by the respondents and then confront those documents before the bench, the judge said.
He also observed that the PTI has to make the case and then let the respondents reply.
“You are doing politics as this is not relevant whether they paid taxes or not. You should have let them (the defence legal team) reply after brief arguments of five minutes.”
The bench also observed that it would confine itself to the matter related to the acquisition of foreign properties by the Sharif family and not scrutinise the premier’s entire life. “We are not going to open the entire life of the PM to scrutinise it as this issue is not before us,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa remarked.
The Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, who heads the bench, also remarked that in criminal cases, the benefit of doubt goes to the accused. “On the basis of so-called PM’s contrary statements on foreign properties, how can we uphold that London flats were purchased through black money,” he further said.
The CJ also observed that after hearing the petitioner’s counsel for one hour, they have come to the conclusion that a detailed inquiry – to be led by an SC judge, who will have the assistance of local and international investigative agencies – is required to probe this matter. “At least I am at a loss,” he added.
The CJ also observed that there is no mention in the respondents’ statements regarding the total worth of London flats. Earlier, Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan remarked that if it was proved that the PM made misstatements or told a lie before the public or in parliament then there would be consequences.
When Naeem Bukhari, another PTI attorney, referred to the Zafar Ali Shah case judgment, which had validated the military coup of former president Pervez Musharraf, the bench told him that these are submissions of then Attorney General for Pakistan and not the court’s verdict against the Sharif family regarding the alleged corruption.
Earlier, one of the petitioners, Tariq Asad, requested the bench that at least three-four political figures should also be probed along with the PM. The CJ asked him what was wrong if the court started the accountability process from the ruler. “We have to begin somewhere,” Justice Khosa also remarked.
Later, the hearing of the case was adjourned till November 30.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2016.