Panama Papers scandal: SC verdict on Nawaz Sharif's involvement imminent, a look at his other legal woes

It's been a year since the Panama Papers burst on the scene. The scandal has rocked governments, exposed high-profile personalities, triggered scores of investigations around the world and dealt a blow to Panama as an offshore financial hub. In the immediate aftermath, Iceland's prime minister was forced to resign after the leak showed his family sheltered assets offshore.

Among other exposed to scrutiny include the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former British prime minister David Cameron, and many current and former politicians and associates.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reuters

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reuters

Sharif's alleged wrongdoing came to light as part of a massive leak of secret files from a Panamanian law firm that specialises in setting up offshore companies in tax havens. 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.

According to the Panama Papers, three of Sharif's four children — Maryam, Hasan and Hussain — were owners of offshore companies and "were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several companies." But Sharif and his family have dismissed the allegations of money laundering and denied any wrongdoing.

The Asia Times reported that the Supreme Court’s five-member bench, led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, took up petitions on 20 October, 2016 and concluded its hearing on 23 February, 2017. “The Supreme Court’s verdict will change the future of Pakistan,” said Imran Khan, the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), one of three political parties challenging the legality of the Sharif family’s offshore assets, in January.

Heading a five-judge bench hearing a slew of petitions against the Sharif family, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed that 26,000 pages were submitted in the case and the judges will read "each word" of it. He observed that it was not a case wherein a short order could be passed.

"The court will decide the case only after considering the material submitted in the court and will announce its verdict in accordance with the law and Constitution," Justice Khosa was quoted as saying by The Express Tribune.

"We will decide this case only by the law; such that people will say, 20 years down the line, that this judgement was made by the book," Justice Khosa said. Data from the Panama Papers, available on the website of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) purportedly revealed the offshore holdings of members of Sharif's family.

"The Panama case changed the political landscape of the country, which was torn between two groups; the first comprising all of the political opposition including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the second belonging to supporters of the ruling party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)," Geo TV reported on its website.

Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique said that PML-N would respect whatever decision would be given by the Supreme Court in the case. He said the court's decision was about to come and all the parties in the case should get ready to accept it. "You may have your own reservations and feelings but you have to respect the court's decision," he said.

All eyes are on the verdict: which the Supreme Court deliberated for 26 days. The Indian Express reported that the much-awaited verdict in the case is expected by mid-April. The case pertains to investments allegedly made by Sharif and members of his family in Mossack Fonseca. Dawn last week reported that a Supreme Court judge observed on Tuesday that any pronouncement by the court would set a precedent that would be remembered for centuries.

Sharif, over his long political career has had many legal woes. Here's a look at some of them:

Supreme Court attack

According to Asia Times, in 1997, PML-N workers had occupied the Supreme Court building and forced the then Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah to suspend court proceedings in a contempt of court case against Sharif, who was then in his second term in office (He is now in his third term).

Pakistan Defence reported that the country's apex court had issued contempt of court notice to Sharif on the charge of not implementing apex court verdict in National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case and asked him to personally appear before the bench on 19 January. On 23 December, 1997, the Supreme Court bench declared Sajjad Ali Shah’s appointment as the chief justice illegal and Justice Ajmal Mian was made chief justice of Pakistan. The contempt proceedings against Nawaz Sharif were dropped.

Treason case

In 1999, Sharif was sentenced to life in prison on tax evasion and treason charges after Pervez Musharraf toppled him in a bloodless coup in October of the same year.

Under a deal brokered by the Saudi royal family, Musharraf released him in December 2000 on condition that he and his family live in exile in Saudi Arabia for 10 years. But the Sharifs won a Supreme Court battle against their banishment in August 2007, after which they vowed to return home for what Nawaz called a "decisive battle against dictatorship in Pakistan."

Asghar Khan case

Pakistan Today reported that a petition was filed by Air Martial (retd) Asghar Khan in which he alleged that donations by some businessmen of Karachi by consent of then Army Chief Mirza Aslam Baig and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan were disbursed among Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) prior to 1990’s elections for their campaign. According to the SC’s verdict Nawaz Sharif received 3.5 million rupees along with other bigwigs.

Although not the only beneficiary of funding by agencies, Pakistan Today reported that Sharif surfaced as the PM in 1990’s election. The allegations, later confirmed by SC judgmentm=, did little damage to his political clout and barely made a dent in his vote bank: He won the 2013 election and returned to power.

The Express Tribune reported that in the Asghar Khan case, the Supreme Court had found a former army chief and a former chief of the all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) guilty of rigging the 1990 general elections (against the Pakistan Peoples Party) and ordered legal action against the two former generals.

Hudaibiya Paper Mills case

The Hudaibiya Paper Mills case is another example, where Sharif managed to wrangle out of legal trouble through technicalities and arm-twisting the investigating authorities.

Pakistan Today reported that the infamous Hudaibiya Paper Mills case was given a lease on life during the Panamagate hearing because of Ishaq Dar’s confessional statement, given to a judicial magistrate in 2000, where he admitted his involvement in laundering $14.86 million on behalf of Sharif family. This became a sticking point as the Bench asked prosecutor general to present the whole record of the case.

Dawn reported that Senator Dar's handwritten statement, given before a magistrate back on 25 April, 2000, had alleged that Sharif brothers used the Hudaibya Paper Mills as cover for money laundering during the late 1990s.

The Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference was quashed by Lahore High Court in 2014 and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) did not file an appeal against the decision in the Supreme Court. The decision came after 14 years and despite mounting evidence, the reference was quashed and Sharif was once again was given a clean chit. However, the case is still pending in the NAB.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Apr 17, 2017 14:29:08 IST

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