ISLAMABAD: The Sharif family, which is already facing difficulty in satisfying the Supreme Court on the money trail for its London properties, is likely to face a tougher time next week in a matter related to 17-year-old Hudabiya Paper Mills case about its alleged money laundering.
The five-judge SC bench hearing the Panamagate case on Thursday summoned heads of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Board of Revenue to appear on February 21. It also directed the NAB prosecutor general to submit complete record of Hudabiya Paper Mills case.
The scam came to the limelight when the bench – headed
by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa – took up PTI’s plea last month seeking disqualification of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on charges of allegedly facilitating the Sharif family in money laundering of Rs1.2 billion.
Highlighting apparent lacunae in the acquittal of the Sharifs by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in 2014, the SC has already wondered how Rs1.2 billion were still ‘unaccounted for’ and why NAB had not filed any appeal against the LHC verdict.
On April 25, 2000 – barely months after a military coup that toppled Nawaz Sharif’s second government – Dar, who was incarcerated at the time, recorded a confessional statement in which he claimed that Sharif brothers used the Hudabiya Paper Mills as a cover for money laundering during the late 1990s.
During the hearing on Thursday, the bench asked NAB prosecutor general to ask NAB chairman to appear before the court after thoroughly studying the case record.
Legal experts believe that the court may ask NAB to reinvestigate the case, in which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was nominated as an accused. The bench may ask NAB to file appeal against the LHC order against the reinvestigation of scam against the ruling family.
Talking to The Express Tribune, a senior lawyer – who has been part of Sharif family’s legal team – said Hudabiya Paper Mills scam will have profound effects on the politics of Sharif family.
“If the court asks for reinvestigation of the case then members of Sharif family will be quizzed and the ruling family may face embarrassment. Likewise, Dar’s investigation will also be reconsidered.
“It’s interesting to see what will be the fresh stance of Dar and whether the SC will direct NAB for reinvestigation. A commission can be constituted for this purpose as the SC did in the Bank of Punjab scam,” the lawyer said.
He said the investigating agency might record statements of those, whose accounts were used for money laundering. It may use material from former FIA chief Rehman Malik’s report. “NAB chairman may face consequences for not filing appeal against the LHC judgment,” he added.
Maryam’s bearer shares
As hearing of the Panamagate case was resumed on Thursday, Sharifs’ counsel Salman Akram Raja told the bench that the PM’s daughter Maryam Nawaz had been a legal beneficiary of Sharif’s London flats for around six months – from February 2006 to July 2006 – as she possessed bearer shares regarding ownership as a trustee.
He claimed that in July 2006, the shares were registered in the name of Minerva Services Limited – a company the premier’s family previously identified as a ‘service provider’ to Nielsen and Nescoll, the offshore companies owned by the PM’s son Hussain Nawaz.
Here, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed called for documentary evidence which could show the authorised representatives of Minerva Services. The Sharifs’ counsel said Minerva was replaced by a trustee service company in 2014, which is now owned by the PM’s son. The counsel said if the dependency of Maryam was not proven then the ownership of Minerva did not matter.
Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan observed that it was unbelievable that the Sharif family acquired such expensive apartments in posh areas of London but they have no document to establish their ownership as well as the money trail.
The judge also asked as to what the court should do when the petitioner, the PTI, was not capable of providing corroborative evidence to establish their case against the ruling family’s documents.
“Go to Rawal Dam for fishing,” Justice Saeed suggested to his fellow judge on a lighter note. “Here political rivalry matters, not corruption,” he added.
Meanwhile, Justice Khosa observed that the court was still conducting proceedings of an adversarial nature, but after completion of arguments by counsels of both the parties, it would see whether inquisitorial proceedings should be initiated.
He also made it clear that the SC could give declaration against the Sharif family under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution. Referring to Khyra Mines case judgment, he observed that the SC has the power to record evidence in any matter.
The SC judge observed that the ruling family was gambling. What would be the spirit of accountability if the Sharifs failed to produce the necessary documents in court, he asked.
Justice Khosa also observed that he has read 10 judgments of international arbitration, wherein civil proceedings were conducted but matters of corruption was also considered and the international tribunal’s standard of proof was ‘more likely than not’.
Another judge, however, observed that the verdicts of the international tribunals could not be referred to in the court of law.
The counsel argued that the apex court cannot give a direct verdict against the ruling family until due process is followed at the relevant forum. “The SC is not the proper forum to give a declaration against [them],” Raja said.
However, the bench asked as to what the court could do when all agencies did not look into the Panama leaks matter. The counsel replied that the SC could supervise the investigation as it did in many cases like National Insurance Company Limited (NICL) and Hajj scams.
“No person should be deprived of the right of appeal and there is no option of the appeal under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution,” he added.
Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan told the counsel that the bench was trying to review each aspect of the case as they understood sensitivity of the matter. Justice Khosa observed that they were carefully examining every question.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2017.