We can’t close our eyes, SC warns

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  • You gave media docs, also plead before them as well, SC tells counsel
  • I did not leak docs, Salman Raja replied

The three-member Supreme Court bench has observed that prima facie, the case relates to submission of forged documents and the there is a seven-year imprisonment term for those who submit false documents before the court.

On Thursday, this was the fourth consecutive hearing of the bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan and comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, following the submission of the Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) final report into the Sharif family’s businesses.

Throughout the hearing, the judges remarked the absence of money trail with regards to the London properties as well as the Azizia Steel Mills in Jeddah. Counsel for prime minister’s children Salman Akram Raja also submitted a 17-page petition listing objections on the JIT report, pleading for dismissal of the report and its evidence.

Justice Ijaz observed that producing the Qatari royal before the JIT was Hussain’s responsibility as the foreign national was his star witness. Earlier this week, the bench heard arguments of the petitioners over the JIT report, submitted on July 10, and is now hearing the replies of the respondents.

As Advocate Raja started his arguments, Justice Azmat observed that all of the counsel’s documents were debated in the media while Justice Ejaz remarked that maybe the counsel can give the arguments before the media as well. In response, Raja said that he did not provide the media with any material.

During his arguments, he said that his client Hussain was not asked questions regarding the UAE Justice Ministry’s letter during his JIT sessions. He presented to the court documents detailing cargo shipments from UAE to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Justice Ijaz commented that additional documents were submitted whenever questions were raised.

“You should have given the complete documents to the JIT,” Justice Ejaz observed, commenting that now the counsel has brought to the fore new documents whose effect on the case will have to be seen. Raja replied that the JIT declared all the documents he presented to them as bogus.

In the 17-page objection, he objects to the source material used by the JIT in its final report, saying it is unverified. Justice Amzat counselled Raja to not dismiss the JIT’s findings but instead prove them wrong with supporting documents.

Addressing the counsel, Justice Azmat said you have to answer law firm Mossack Fonseca’s claim that Maryam is the owner of the London properties. Justice Ijaz inquired from Raja regarding the Azizia Mills’ money trail. “We been asking for a year and a half now as to how the money got to Jeddah but there has been no response so far,” he observed.

The counsel replied that they have provided answers but that the court does not accept them is a separate matter. Addressing Raja, Justice Ejaz observed that you have been arguing for an hour but have not said anything new. The counsel responded by saying he was not repeating his arguments.

“There’s no accusation of any wrongdoing against the prime minister’s children,” said Raja, to which Justice Ejaz remarked: “If there’s no accusation then why are you wasting your energy.” The bench observed that their questions regarding the money trail still stand where they were.

Justice Ejaz remarked that if the children were unable to reveal the money trail of the London properties then the public officer holder will be asked about it. The hearing was then put on hold as the bench went into a short recess.

As the proceedings resumed, the bench was provided with the documents related to Qatari royal Sheikh Hammad bin Jassim and the British Virgin Islands. The documents include the two letters sent to the JIT by the Qatari royal. The bench observed that as the JIT has been wrapped up, the documents be submitted to the court’s registrar.

Raja argued that the JIT did not conduct further investigation after receiving the UAE letter. Justice Ijaz remarked that the counsel’s changing stances will harm his case. Justice Azmat observed that those who benefitted from the Hill Metals Establishment were known but the funds from where the company was set up are not.

Justice Ijaz remarked that if there’s no evidence that a wrongdoing was committed then there is also no proof that the right thing was done. Justice Azmat observed that prima facie, the case in front of them was of submitting bogus documents. “Don’t want to go beyond the apparent at this stage,” he commented.

When the matter goes to the relevant forum, the clarification will come too, Raja responded. Justice Azmat observed that the bench does not want to have an effect on anyone’s basic rights or on the case. The judge then asked what happens if false documents were submitted in the court, to which the additional attorney general responded that a case was registered.

Justice Ijaz remarked that a seven-year imprisonment was the punishment for the offence. “Raja Sahab, what have you people done?” asked Justice Azmat, adding that they cannot even imagine how this could have happened. Raja replied saying senior lawyer Akram Sheikh was the Sharif family’s counsel at the time [the allegedly false documents were submitted].

Raja informed the bench that the Calibri font could have technically been used in 2006. Justice Ijaz remarked that February 4, 2006 was a holiday in Britain, saying no one picks up their phone in Britain on a holiday. “What do you have to say?” he asked the counsel.

Raja responded that it was possible a mistake was committed in this regard. Justice Azmat observed that the Supreme Court cannot sit with its eyes closed. He remarked further that the law would take its course and the results of this will not be good for the respondents. Justice Ijaz remarked that it could be that the Qatari prince was not very photogenic, as he has refused to step out of his palace or record his statement with the JIT via video-link.

The judge observed that producing the Qatari royal before the JIT was Hussain’s responsibility as the sheikh was his star witness. Responding to the judge’s assertion that the premier took a salary from FZE Capital, Raja said this was not the case. Replying to Justice Ijaz’s query as to how funds reached UAE for use by FZE Capital, Raja said he will respond to this in court on Friday (today).

The counsel said he sticks to his earlier position that the premier and his children did not do anything wrong.  The hearing was later adjourned till Friday. Before the conclusion of proceedings, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s counsel Dr Tariq Hassan informed the bench that he would continue his arguments on Friday, to which PTI’s counsel Babar Awan said he would cross-question the counsel statements.