ISLAMABAD: The ruling PML-N and its arch nemesis PTI made surprise moves on Tuesday – a day before a gruelling legal battle between the two over the Panamagate scandal resumes in the Supreme Court.
The Sharif family changed its legal team yet another time to defend them in the top court, while Imran Khan flaunted ‘evidence’ to establish that Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Premier Nawaz Sharif, was the owner of the offshore companies exposed by the Panama Papers.
Makhdoom Ali Khan, who has worked as Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) during the era of military ruler Pervez Musharraf, will now represent Premier Sharif in the apex court. He has replaced Salman Aslam Butt, another former AGP. The Sharif family was apparently dissatisfied with his arguments at the last hearing.
The premier has written a letter to his advocate-on-record, Rafaqat Hussain Shah, asking him to file an application for the change of counsel on an urgent basis.
Hussain Nawaz has hired Salman Akram Raja, while Maryam Nawaz and her spouse Captain Safdar will be represented by senior lawyer Shahid Hamid. Shahid Hamid, the brother of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, has already represented the PML-N before the inquiry commission on electoral fraud. Earlier, Akram Sheikh was appearing on behalf of Hussain and Maryam.
A senior PML-N lawyer was ‘surprised by the change at this stage’. “You shouldn’t change horses midstream,” he said while speaking to The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity.
“Engaging too many senior lawyers in one case leads to disharmony which might eventually create setbacks for the client,” he added. To drive home the point, he referred to the case of Orange Line metro train project, where the country’s top lawyers could not get relief for their client [Punjab government] from the Lahore High Court.
PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi says that the Sharif family has changed its counsel at the eleventh hour, because they want to prolong the case. “The ruling party has used the same tactics when it was negotiating with opposition parties on terms of reference for a commission to investigate the Panama leaks.”
Legal experts believe the Sharif family’s new legal team will try to buy time from the court on the pretext of preparing their case. They are also likely to argue against the maintainability of the petitions seeking Premier Sharif’s disqualification in the backdrop of Panamagate scandal.
The PTI’s legal minds claim the issue of maintainability has already been settled by a larger bench of the apex court which had adjourned the case after 10 hearings.
The new bench that will take up the case on Wednesday (today) is headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and also comprises Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh and Justice Ijazul Ahsan.
Imran’s party, submitting fresh documentary evidence in the top court, claimed that Maryam Nawaz was the beneficiary of the luxury flats the Sharif family had bought in an upscale neighbourhood of London.
“Maryam was the beneficiary and the real owner of Nelson and Nescon, the two offshore companies named in the Panama Papers,” he told a news conference after submitting fresh evidence in the court. “Hussain Nawaz had set up no trust of which Maryam was a trustee. In fact, she was the real owner,” he added.
Imran described as ‘fraud’ the letter purportedly written by a Qatari royal and submitted in the top court by the Sharif family that claimed that the London flats had been purchased through the settlement of accounts between the Qatari royal family and the Sharifs.
The PTI chief also questioned where Maryam had gotten money to purchase the London flats while she was a dependent of her father. “The only thing that isn’t fake is [finance minister] Ishaq Dar’s affidavit which he had submitted before parliament,” he claimed. “Nawaz Sharif has lied both on the floor of parliament and in the Supreme Court. They [Sharif family] don’t have any money trail for the London flats.”
Imran believes the case might be decided within two weeks because 90% of the documents sent to his party by overseas Pakistanis substantiated the PTI claim. The 40-page document includes details of conversations between British Virgin Islands’ investigation department and Mosack Fonseca Company, and emails of the Minerva Community Services and Mosack.
In its additional documents, PTI informed the court that on June 12, 2012, the financial investigation agency of British Virgin Islands had asked Nescoll Limited and Nielsen Enterprises Limited about the name and contact details and physical address of the ultimate beneficial owner, registered director and shareholder of the companies.
Responding to the query, the money laundering reporting officer of the Mossack, Fonseca & Co (BVI) Limited Tortola, J Nizbeth Maduro, had written a letter to the agency, saying the ‘beneficial owner’ of the Nielsen Enterprises Ltd and Nescoll Ltd’ was Maryam Safdar. The reporting officer had also attached a copy of the passport of Maryam with the letter.
According to the Sharif family, on February 2, 2006, the premier’s daughter had signed a declaration with her brother Hussain as a trustee in his two companies. Further, Maryam, in her reply before the SC, had also claimed that she was only a trustee and not a shareholder or beneficiary of the properties.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2017.