Panama Papers scandal: Pakistan Supreme Court verdict favors Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Pakistan’s apex court, which has a history of supporting incumbent governments and military dictators, Thursday (April 20) ruled in favor of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the so-called Panamagate money laundering case. Two months after concluding hearings of the case, the apex court gave a 3-2 split judgment favoring Nawaz Sharif by calling for a fresh probe into the money laundering scandal.

The two judges who ruled against PM Nawaz Sharif said he should be disqualified as he could no longer be considered 'honest' and 'truthful', whereas the other three were in favor of forming a Joint Investigation Team to definitively answer the question of whether the allegations against the prime minister were true or not.

For many the Supreme Court verdict was not unprecedented. Tellingly, if you Google “Pakistan Supreme Court favors Generals” the pictures of three military dictators, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, General Ziaul Haq and General Parvez Musharraf, will pop up.

Here are some controversial judgments of the Supreme Court:

  • In 1955, the Apex court led by Chief Justice Munir supported the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly by Governor General Ghulam Mohammad in the “Tamizuddin Khan Versus Federal of Pakistan” case. The court relied on the Bracton's maxim, that “which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessity.” The Assembly speaker Molvi Tamizuddin Khan challenged the action of Ghulam Mohammad in the Sind Court and won it. However, on appeal the Supreme Court dismissed the judgment of the Sind Court on the ground of 'state necessity.’
  • In 1958, the Supreme Court first provided the legal validation of the martial law imposed by President of Pakistan Iskander Mirza. When President Mirza was dismissed in two weeks by Chief of Army Staff General Ayub Khan his action was also to be held valid by the apex court.
  • In November 1977, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition by Nusrat Bhutto, wife of the deposed Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto challenging the military coup by General Ziaul Haq. The apex court sanctioned the imposition of martial law under the ‘doctrine of necessity.’
  • Shortly after General Musharraf overthrew Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the 1999 coup d'état, the opposition challenged the legitimacy of the coup and asked the court to rule on its legality. On May 12, 2000 the Court rendered a nuanced verdict which sanctioned the coup on the grounds of the doctrine of state Necessity.

Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court on Thursday provided relief to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ordered extensive probe into the money trail in the Panama Papers scandal citing "insufficient evidence."

Tellingly, 26,000 pages of evidence were submitted in the case. The petitioners in the case against Sharif were: Advocate Tariq Asad, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Sirajul Haq, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan and Awami Muslim League head Sheikh Rashid Ahmed who had sought disqualification of the Prime Minister and his close family members for their alleged investment in offshore companies.

The apex court ordered the government to constitute a Joint Investigation Team (JIT), involving members of Military Intelligence, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to investigate the case in the next sixty days.

Details of the Sharif family’s offshore assets surfaced when papers from the Panama-based law firm of Mossack Fonseca were leaked in 2016. The assets, mostly in London, were managed through offshore companies owned by Sharif’s children.

Last year, the Panama Papers scandal rocked several governments worldwide, exposed high-profile personalities, including Prime Minister Sharif and his family, triggered scores of investigations around the world and dealt a blow to Panama as an offshore financial hub.

The Panama Papers revealed that Prime Minister's children Maryam, Hasan and Hussain Nawaz "were owners or had the right to authorize transactions for several [offshore] companies". At least eight offshore companies were found to have links to the Sharif family in the documents that were leaked following which the case was filed by various petitioners.

A trove of 11.5 million digital records from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca last year revealed how many of the world's wealthy used offshore companies to stash assets.

In the aftermath of the leaks, Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson had been forced to resign after it was revealed that his family sheltered assets offshore.

According to the Panama Papers, three of Sharif's four children— daughter Maryam and sons Hasan and Hussain — were owners of offshore companies and "were owners or had the right to authorize transactions for several companies". Immediately after the verdict, Defense Minister Khwaja Asif told the media that Sharif will remain the prime minister and asserted that he will also be re-elected in 2018 election.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari condemned the court decision and called on Nawaz Sharif to resign. Similarly Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and Jamat-e-Islami president Siraj ul Haq also called for Nawaz Sharif’s resignation.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( email: asghazali2011 (@)

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