Colossal miscalculations in high pitched court battle in Pakistan

  • An in-depth analysis on how ruling party’s strategy to save PM from being ousted from power is failing.

The ruling party of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has invested hugely in manipulating public perceptions in their favour through the media. The Sharif brothers have been at the heart of allegations to have even maneuvered results of public surveys to their political advantage whenever they felt that their government was under threat from the military establishment in the past, or more particularly after adverse court proceedings started against them in November last year on charges of illegally transferring millions of dollars abroad to setup offshore companies to do dubious business.

The ruling family’s detractors have their own cogent reasons to point out that Sharif brothers generally leave little trace of evidence behind their wheeling and dealings as they do everything possible under the sun through “technically sound legal cover”. However, following the adverse court ruling on April 20 and subsequent investigation against them from May this year onwards, it appears that divine law has been turning against them. Their past modus operandi to make holes into the national kitty is getting exposed day by day through ongoing investigations they first tried to obstruct by presiding over the state institutions which were supposed to probe their wrongdoings.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is now facing legally and politically a nightmarish situation which may lead to his ouster from power in the near future.

Understanding Operational Laws against the ruling family

National Accountability Ordinance of 1999

Under this law, the public officeholders, which primarily include senior officials and more particularly the members of the Parliament and Prime Minister, can be held accountable for living beyond their known means of income and sources. The law, which stipulates 14 years of rigorous imprisonment for a corrupt person, virtually treats an accused politician guilty until he proves himself innocent. An accused person is bound by the legislation to come up with a plausible set of proofs before the investigators and courts to prove himself innocent once the accountability process kick-starts against him under this law, the genesis of which was originally taken from the era of the great second caliph of Islam Hazrat Umar Farooq (May Allah be pleased with him) who was questioned by people about the source of income through which a full length cloth he was wearing was purchased. He was rescued by his son who publicly confirmed that he had gifted his share of cloth to help his father put together clothes for himself since he was a tall man and could not have fitted himself in his own share of cloth which everybody else had received from the state exchequer over 14 centuries back in Madina-i-Munawara, the ancient seat of power.

Like 1999’s accountability law in Pakistan, many other laws in the world have been taken from his era over the course of centuries.

Constitutional provisions on Honesty and their implications on PM

The famous articles of the constitution 62 and 63 go in tandem with the Accountability Ordinance. These constitutional articles are shortcut legal routes to disqualify any member of the Parliament if he is found lying to the nation. This means that if the Supreme Court finds glaring contradictions by the Prime Minister in the process of proving himself innocent on the charges of money laundering it can straight away disqualify him from holding any public office for five years. Two judges have already disqualified him on similar grounds while even if one among the other three judges decides so, Prime Minister would be sent packing home.

Legal tricks in timeline of buying Overseas Properties

Over the course of the past eight months of court proceedings and investigation into the Panama Papers scandal, the entire burden of proof has virtually fallen upon Nawaz Sharif to prove his innocence. The reason is that he held the office of the Prime Minister three times and his children were apparently dependent on him when expensive properties were bought in London through two Panama based off-shore companies Nielsen and Nescoll from 1993 to 1995.

However, the Prime Minister  and his family seem to have made up facts of their own to counter the charge-sheet that he owned luxury flats in London in early 1990s by illegally transferring money from Pakistan. These properties, as per the defense line of the ruling family, were purchased after 2006. Obviously it was an attempt to prove that his children were grown up and independent legally in 2006 to do their business and hence he is not linked with their wrong doings.

That is why in the Supreme Court proceedings and during the course of subsequent investigations, both sons Hassan and Hussain disowned their father (Prime Minister) and so did the father. Nonetheless this has not worked.

How the Ruling Family’s Strategy to Frustrate Accountability Law is Failing

The major component of the strategy of the ruling Muslim League has been to use “technical legal grounds” to prevent the Joint investigating team and the Supreme Court to convict Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on money laundering charges. This strategy is not working given the sheer amount of glaring contradictions and failure of the ruling family to come up with plausible evidence to defend the charges of money laundering and lying to the nation by concealing his and his family’s mega business empire abroad through offshore companies. The ruling family made mistakes one after the other because lies do not find a second leg to stand on.

The Prime Minister and his family knew in advance about Panama Paper scandal in early 2016 and therefore, they strategized to allow Hussain Nawaz, son of the Prime Minister to publically own the offshore companies through which properties in London were purchased days before the scandal made headlines in the world. The ruling family thought that the accountability law would neither come into action against Prime Minister for not being directly linked with the Panama Papers scandal, nor would his son would be implicated since Hussain has never been a member of the Parliament or held any public office.

Owning offshore companies is legal to evade taxes by hiding the identity of real owners at many foreign destinations like in Panama and British Virgin Islands. Therefore, Hussain Nawaz, was propped up in the media days before the Panama Paper scandal to admit that he owned offshore companies which he said was legal to do business abroad. The motive was to play down the scale of the scandal and de-link it from Prime Minister to avert its legal implications on his high-profile public office.

This did not end here. Yet another miscalculation of the ruling family was that banking transactions cannot be produced beyond 10 years under the law of the land in Pakistan and probably this timeframe reduces when it comes to retrieving bank transactions from elsewhere in the world, while Joint Investigating Team (JIT) already had access to much of dubious transactions from the archives of National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)  and intelligence services. These bank transactions were made in the name of one Qazi family in London to illegally transfer money abroad allegedly on behalf of the Prime Minister in 1990s.

Similarly they had a miscalculated strategy in place on how to conceal the tax records of Prime Minister and his family. The ruling family mistakenly thought that the existing law would not allow investigators and the top court to retrieve tax records beyond five years from Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR). Now Joint Investigation Team (JIT) faces manipulative resistance from FBR in retrieving the complete income tax record of the Prime Minister and his family which the investigators would probably retrieve under court orders sooner rather than later. The tax record would help investigators to determine the scale of the circulation of money the Sharif family possessed in early 1990 when the properties in London were bought.

What led Sharif family to seek the help of the Qatari Prince?

The Supreme Court in its first round of hearing dismissed the legal pleas of the ruling family linked with “time bar factor” excuses referred above. Therefore, as a last resort Sharif family had to rush to seek the help of its Arab friends in the Middle East. That is where the ruling family had to manufacture facts.

Incredibly Prime Minister’s son Hussain Nawaz’s legal defence was that his grandfather singlehandedly chose him to inherit the whole family business which the Prime Minister’s father, the late Mian Muhammad Sharif first set up in Dubai, Qatar and then in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the early 2000s, and that the sale of steel mills in Saudi Arabia helped Hussain Nawaz to purchase properties in London in 2006. The ruling family has so far failed to collect proof for this story which appears to have been concocted. An affidavit of Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al-Thani, Qatari prince attempting to own money trail to the properties in London has already been rejected by the apex court. There is so far no evidence on the record that the Sharif family purchased flats in London in 2006.

Likely Legal Grounds to Oust Prime Minister from Power

As a universal rule, the guilty mind always makes its manifestations in one way or the other. So appears to be the case with the Prime Minister. The fear of more disclosures on how allegedly he and his family “camouflaged” their wealth in offshore companies made the Prime Minister nervous and he made mistakes one after the other.  He addressed the nation several times and made speeches in the Parliament. This brought forth an inherent series of contradictions, all pointing out to the fact that Prime Minister has a lot to hide from the court. Had he not defended his family, the Prime Minister might have escaped from the accountability on technical grounds.

The Prime Minister’s claims of possessing the record of each and every penny of the business empire his family owned and later his and family’s failure to prove so led him to be disqualified by two senior judges. This also attracted a strongly worded order for further investigation from other three judges on April 20 this year to probe the sources of the income with which his family set up dubious offshore companies abroad through which properties in London were purchased.

The two judges invoked Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution to disqualify him since he lied to the nation by hiding his assets abroad. They said luxury properties of the ruling family in London ostensibly are disproportionate to the known sources of income of the Prime Minister, hence they ordered the National Accountability Bureau to hold his trial on the charges of corruption and corrupt practices. Their judgment doesn’t hold ground until three other judges announce their final verdict on whether or not he should be disqualified after the conclusion of the ongoing investigation. The final judgment is expected after JIT concludes its finding on July 10.

Three other judges may find more contradictory materials in the defense line of the Prime Minister and particularly after his cross examination by the JIT. Prime Minister reportedly walked out of the room when JIT grilled him about his contradictions. Therefore, it appears the judgment of three other judges may not be very different to those of the two senior judges.

Javed Rana

Javed Rana

With over two decades of journalistic experience including a long stint with Al-Jazeera, Javed Rana is witness to countless monumental developments taking place in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Javed focuses on non-state armed actors, legal, political & geostrategic issues.