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The 5-member bench of the Supreme Court will announce the verdict of the Panama Case tomorrow after the three-member implementation bench reserved its verdict on 21st July. The entire nation is now impatiently looking towards the honorable Supreme Court for accountability of the Sharif family which has been accused of money laundering and having assets beyond means among other charges.

According to various sources, two justices out of the three judge’s bench which heard the final arguments by the parties in Panama Case will not be in Islamabad next week. Mr. Justice Azmat Saeed is scheduled to be in Supreme Court bench Lahore while Mr. Justice Ijaz-Ul-Ahsan will be on leave from next Monday.

The Panama Case is the first concerted effort in recent memory to bring the political elite into account who until recently was considered by many as beyond the reach of justice. For most citizens of Pakistan institutional corruption has become a cliché and is accepted as an intrinsic part of the reality. This verdict may break this illusion.

According to various sources, two justices out of the three judge’s bench which heard the final arguments by the parties in Panama Case will not be in Islamabad next week. Mr. Justice Azmat Saeed is scheduled to be in Supreme Court bench Lahore while Mr. Justice Ijaz-Ul-Ahsan will be on leave from next Monday. This has made many to anticipate that Friday will be the day when the Supreme Court will announce the much-awaited judgment on the Panama Case.

Read more: Panamagate and what it tells us about ourselves?

The 13 questions

The Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan in its order dated 20 April 2017 constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to carry out a thorough investigation into the issues raised in its detailed ruling on Panama Case. The Apex Court directed JIT to answer the 13 questions in the allotted time of 60 days.

The very first issue raised by the Apex Court related to the establishment of Gulf Steel Mills, followed by the circumstances which led to its sale, the fate of its liabilities, the fate of its sale proceeds and how did these sale proceeds end up in Jeddah, Qatar and the UK, the capability of Hassan and Hussain Nawaz to acquire huge assets in their tender ages, the credibility of letters of Qatari prince, how bearer shares crystallized into flats, the real beneficial owner of Nielsen Enterprises Ltd. and Nescoll Ltd, the circumstances leading to the formation of Hill Metals Establishment and the legality of gifts amounting to millions of dollars received by PM. Nawaz Sharif.

JIT finally submitted its report to Honorable Supreme Court on July 10, 2017. After 5 days hearing, the Supreme Court reserved its judgment on July 21, 2017.

Read more: Opposition buoyant as the Panama judgment is reserved

The defense of the case by Sharif family

Throughout the Panama hearings, the Sharif family failed to answer any question of the Supreme Court or JIT. They resorted to challenging only the technicalities surrounding the investigation conducted by JIT.

Prior to the formation of JIT, the lawyers of Sharif family, argued before the Apex Court, that it would be improper for the SC to conduct an investigation of its own and hence it should form a committee to investigate the allegations that surfaced in the leaked reports made public by ICIJ.

Mr. Salman Akram Raja, the lawyer of the ruling family, submitted 17-page objections to the JIT report which focused primarily on technicalities. In response to Mr. Salman’s 17-page objections to the JIT report, the judges asked him to counter the report, point by point, instead of merely brushing it aside.

The Supreme Court agreed to this and the majority of the 5 member bench ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team which was given special powers by the Court. The leaders of the ruling party distributed sweets on this decision.

However, these celebrations were short lived as the Sharif family quickly realized that the JIT would not budge to any pressure and conduct an impartial investigation. The N-League launched briskly allegations against the JIT and labeled it as biased.

Mr. Salman Akram Raja, the lawyer of the ruling family, submitted 17-page objections to the JIT report which focused primarily on technicalities. In response to Mr. Salman’s 17-page objections to the JIT report, the judges asked him to counter the report, point by point, instead of merely brushing it aside.

Read more: Is Panama gate a foreign conspiracy to derail Pakistan? Part II

Justice Azmat Saeed also asked Mr. Raja to respond to law firm Mossack Fonseca’s claim, of 2012, as reported by Financial Investigation Agency (FIA) of British Virgin Islands, that Maryam is the owner of the London properties. Moreover, Mr. Raja was asked about the trial of Azizia Mills; the judges said that no answer has been received till date. It was observed that counsel had nothing new to add to his arguments.

The bench also observed that the money trail tracing the London properties still remains unanswered. The bench also stated in such a case, the ‘public office holder’ will be held answerable and may be interrogated about it.

The judges also ruled-out the use of the Calibri font before 2007 and questioned the similarity of mistakes in all the documents. Justice Ijaz remarked that February 4, 2006, was a holiday in Britain, saying no one picks up their phone in Britain on a holiday. Sharif lawyers had submitted documents attested by a notary public on a Saturday. “What do you have to say?” Judge asked the council. Raja had no answer.

If this was not menacing for the Sharifs, Justice Azmat observed that those who benefitted from the Hill Metals Establishment are known, however, but there is no track of funds which led to the institution of the company itself. After saying that the case pertains to presenting fake documents, Justice Azmat then asked what happens if false documents are submitted in court, to which the additional attorney general, summoned by the court, especially for this question, responded that a case is lodged. A seven-year imprisonment may be granted for the offense, Justice Ijaz added.

Read more: Is Panama gate a foreign conspiracy to derail Pakistan? Part I

The judges also ruled-out the use of the Calibri font before 2007 and questioned the similarity of mistakes in all the documents. Justice Ijaz remarked that February 4, 2006, was a holiday in Britain, saying no one picks up their phone in Britain on a holiday. Sharif lawyers had submitted documents attested by a notary public on a Saturday. “What do you have to say?” Judge asked the council. Raja had no answer.

The Qatari Prince’s reluctance to appear before JIT without certain guarantees is still fresh in our minds. A major portion of Sharif family’s defense relied on the Qatari prince statement.  Judges asked Salman Akram Raja: Should the bench now visit Qatari prince in Doha? Mr. Raja remained quiet.

Read more: Narratives galore on the Panama saga

A tail of forgery and deceit

From the trust deed of Neilson and Nescoll to the money trail for businesses in the UK and the Gulf, most of the documents presented to JIT and the Supreme Court by Sharif family have been found to be forged. The honorable judges grilled Mr. Salman Akram Raja for this as well.

Moreover, the JIT report alleged that the SECP chairman Zafar Hijazi had altered records related to Chaudhry Sugar Mills. An investigation team headed by FIA Director Maqsood ul Hassan had also submitted a report to the SC on July 8, which found the chairman guilty of altering the records in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case. The Court ordered the arrest of Mr. Zafar who has since been in the hospital instead of jail due to “chest pain”.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan can send Mr. Nawaz’s children for 7 years in jail for this offense alone.

Read more: Panama-Gate: Circumventing accountability and disrespecting the rule of law

The trial of Sharif family: An international conspiracy?

Despite the tightening encirclement of the Sharif family, the Prime Minister and his sidekicks assert that it is plain victimization. The premier has once again blasted the JIT. In various public addresses Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said this is not accountability, but exploitation. He said again that there is not even a single allegation of corruption against him. Besides, he reiterated that he will not resign.

However, few buy these theories as they point out to the process of law which has been followed. When various government Ministers are asked to identify the international or local players conspiring against the current premier, no answer is received.  

Some of the federal ministers went to the extent of labeling the investigation as an international conspiracy against the Sharif family. They cite Prime Minister’s decision to initiate CPEC project is not well received in certain capitals of the world and therefore a conspiracy is hatched to get rid of Mr. Nawaz and hence sabotage CPEC.

However, few buy these theories as they point out to the process of law which has been followed. When various government Ministers are asked to identify the international or local players conspiring against the current premier, no answer is received.

Read more: Panama case: Is Nawaz Sharif’s political career coming to an end?

Is Army bent upon removing our beloved Prime Minister?

Efforts to create rifts between various institutions was also made by some government quarters. Flamboyant and energetic Talal Chaudhry, Danial Aziz, Maryam Aurangzeb among others have hinted Pakistan’s military hand behind the formulation of JIT report which proves wrong doings of our Prime Minister and his children.

ISI and MI representatives, according to many at the defense of the PM, have been busy in swinging the tide against the family. They pointed out to the incompetence of the military officers in understanding the nuances of the law. The voices became louder after the JIT report was released for public reading. The coterie of the PM was joined in by usual suspects in Asma Jahangir, Javed Hashmi, and Mahmood Achakzai. However, the apprehensions have only graced a few newspapers.

Read more: Panama Case: should Supreme Court render the final judgment?

A decision before prayers?

Friday will be the day when Supreme Court announces its decision on this all important case. An early decision will steer the country out of the political turmoil. This is very much required in the current circumstances since the country is engulfed in conspiracies to destabilize it hatched by its enemies. Given that the decision will impinge upon the future discourse and dispensation in Pakistan, a delay in the verdict would have led to instability.

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