ISLAMABAD: The Panamagate trial took an interesting turn on Thursday when the counsel for Maryam Nawaz and Captain (retd) Safdar challenged admissibility of the Joint Investigation Team’s report into the Panama Papers scandal as evidence before trial court.
Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Bashir did not allow the prosecution to produce the entire JIT report as evidence, saying that the court would decide if summaries, opinions and conclusions in the JIT report and statements of accused person could be admissible or not once the JIT head, Wajid Zia, completes his narration of events.
The direction came after defence counsel Amjad Pervaiz said, “Zia, being a witness, cannot exhibit the JIT report as evidence before the accountability court while recording his statement in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB)’s reference pertaining to the Avenfield Apartments.”
“None of the JIT report can be exhibited by the witness,” Pervaiz raised the objection when Zia while recording his statement produced the JIT report as evidence in the reference against deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, son in-law and two sons.
“How can the witness [Zia] produce the investigation report as evidence in trial court?” the counsel said, adding, “Opinion of the JIT team cannot be exhibited as evidence, and the statements of witnesses and accused recorded before the JIT cannot be produced as evidence in the court either.”
Pervaiz said the only admissible evidence is what Zia himself collected while asking “under what law can this investigation report be produced as evidence?”
NAB’s Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi responded that the witness conducted investigation as per the Supreme Court’s directions and that it can be produced in court as evidence.
Zia sought the court’s permission to speak, and said, “each and every volume is connected and one can only comprehend it when produced completely”.
Parvaiz referred to multiple judgments, including the one of 1958 and one of 2011, pertaining to the submission of investigation and JIT reports before the court concerned.
He said the higher courts have held that charge-sheet submitted under Section 173 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) is merely an opinion of the police officer and is not admissible as evidence.
The couple’s counsel said Zia has authored and sought mutual legal assistance (MLA) from foreign jurisdictions and he can produce the same in the court, but what witness or accused said in front of the JIT during the investigation cannot be produced as evidence.
He maintained that every volume of the JIT contains a section — summary of investigation — and it carries investigators’ opinion.
“To declare guilty or not guilty is the prerogative of the court –and not the JIT’s,” he said, adding the Supreme Court has held in a judgment that an investigation officer is not an expert witness.
To this, Abbasi said if the NAB’s investigation officer had produced the JIT report, then the defence counsel could have raised the objection.
He admitted that Zia couldn’t exhibit the JIT report as an investigation officer but he can do the same as a witness.
“Zia is appearing as a witness, not as an investigation officer,” Abbasi argued.
“This is a special case, witness has compiled the report, it can be exhibited and it doesn’t fall in the category of Section 173 CrPC.”
Following the arguments, Judge Muhammad Bashir took a short break and when he resumed the hearing he directed Zia to continue recording his statement in the Avenfield reference.
“If you want to exhibit all the volumes of the JIT report at once, it can’t happen,” he remarked.
“It will consume a lot of time, then,” Zia replied.
To this, the judge said, “Let it take, just continue your statement.”
It is interesting to mention here that the defence counsel had repeatedly prayed different courts to combine the NAB’s three references or record statement of the common witnesses in the references against the Sharif family, but the NAB prosecution team opposed it and courts also upheld trial court’s decision to keep the references separate and record witnesses’ statement separately.
Pervaiz continued to raise objections when Zia started reading contents of the Sharif family’s different applications earlier submitted before the Supreme Court to establish the ‘money trail’ of the accused.
He said the witness was not the scribe of the documents while asking “have pleadings ever been made evidence”.
Objecting on two affidavits of Tariq Shafi, the nephew of late Mian Muhammad Sharif who used to run Gulf Steel Mill in Dubai in 1974, Pervaiz said that affidavits can’t be submitted as evidence as neither the scribe was present before the court nor made a witness in the case.
At one stage, Judge Bashir expressed his displeasure over Abbasi’s frequent comments when Pervaiz raised objections on Zia’s statement pertaining to Shehbaz Sharif and Tariq Shafi’s names and signatures in an affidavit.
Pervaiz objected when Zia opined that Shehbaz and Shafi could not give satisfactory answers to JIT when asked about their signatures. Abbasi said witness’ statement could not be recorded because of the frequent objections.
“This is not the way to run court proceedings,” Judge Bashir remarked while throwing his pen and notepad on the table. “We apologize,” another NAB prosecutor Afzal Qureshi intervened.
The judge, however, did not accept the apology and left the courtroom announcing that the court would resume hearing on March 15.