The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) has set the stage for 2018 electoral contest between Shahbaz Sharif and Imran Khan – both of whom got clean chit in separate cases announced the same day.
It was a great day for both Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif, who are now the most serious contenders for the office of the prime minister and are expected to be face to face in the next general elections likely to be held in the first week of August 2018.
These decisions and their implications will help bring back political stability besides an assurance for 2018 elections.
Ruling party PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz)’s case for disqualification against Imran Khan has been dismissed by the Supreme Court, whereas to the relief of Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Sharif, a serious effort made to revive the Hudaibya Paper Mills investigation has been shot down by the apex court.
While both the PTI and PML-N leaders and their followers are showing mixed reactions on the two judgments announced on Friday, most of the people ignored the fact that none of these judgments followed the principles set by the five-member bench in its order that had disqualified Nawaz Sharif.
In the Panama Papers case, the five-member bench had ruled: “The argument that the JIT (Joint Investigation Team) overstepped its authority by reopening the case of Hudaibya Paper Mills when Reference No 5 was quashed by the high court does not appear to be correct as the JIT has simply made recommendations in this regard, which can better be dealt with by this court if and when an appeal, before this court, as has been undertaken by special prosecutor NAB (National Accountability Bureau), is filed and a view to the contrary is taken by this Court.”
Although the Supreme Court Panama Papers case order did not include any direction to the NAB to file an appeal in the Hudaibya case, the NAB was pressured to file the appeal, to the alarm of Shahbaz Sharif and his son.
In the second week of September this year, local media reported about a meeting held at an office in Islamabad in which three senior NAB officials were reprimanded for not preparing the appeal in the Hudaibya Paper Mills case against the Sharifs in the Supreme Court.
Two days after the said meeting, the NAB announced that they would file the appeal in Hudaibya case.
The filing of Hudaibya Paper Mills case by the NAB extended the scope of the ongoing probe against Sharifs to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz.
The elder Sharif, former prime minister Nawaz, already stands disqualified while his children have also been booked in NAB references.
On Friday the Supreme Court dismissed the NAB appeal, thus binning what the JIT had recommended that would have hung the sword of Damocles over Shahbaz Sharif’s head.
The JIT, in its report, had said: “The JIT has brought on record substantial additional evidence which substantiates and corroborates the FIA (Federal Investigation Agency) and NAB investigations and also establishes the linkage between the two investigations.
“It is recommended that all three cases are fit to be reopened for investigation and trial on the basis of new additional evidence procured and brought on record by the JIT.
“In view of the foregoing, the Honourable Bench may pass appropriate orders including filing of reference against the accused already identified in the reference, if deemed fit.”
In its controversial Panama Papers case verdict, the Supreme Court took a strict view which even upset many legal minds and relied on definition of Black Law dictionary to convict former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and disqualify him for life on the charge of not declaring salary that was never received by him.
In the Imran Khan case, the Supreme Court took the view that the offshore company – Niazi Services Limited (NSL) – was established as a corporate vehicle for the legal ownership of the London flat, of which the respondent (Khan) was the beneficial owner.
The respondent was neither a shareholder nor a director of NSL, which had a paid-up capital of £9 and the London flat as its sole asset.
The Supreme Court said that this asset held by NSL was declared by the respondent under an amnesty scheme granted in pursuant to Section 59D of the Income Tax Ordinance 1979; therefore, the respondent was under no legal obligation to disclose the corporate vehicle NSL as an asset, either in his income tax returns or his statement of assets and liabilities filed with the ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) along with his nomination papers or in his annual returns filed under Section 42A of the ROPA (Representation of People Act).
Regarding the Banigala property, the SC said that it is owned by the respondent after it was orally gifted to him by his ex-wife Jemima Khan vide gift mutation No 10696 dated 29.10.2005 after their divorce became effective in June, 2004.
Prior to that, the Banigala property had been purchased by the respondent as a family home for his wife and children.