–Tells SC PM Imran, SAPMs Shahzad Akbar, Zulfi Bukhari, Usman Dar, PTI leaders Jahangir Tareen and Firdous Ashiq also own UK properties
–Calls for probing any violation of relevant laws before levelling allegations against persons concerned
–Court says reference against Justice Isa can be dismissed if dishonesty is found in evidence collection
ISLAMABAD: Supreme Court (SC) Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who is facing a presidential reference for not disclosing his family’s assets, on Tuesday put the federal government in a tight spot before a full bench of the apex court by pointing out key leaders of the ruling party who owned properties in the UK, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and his special assistant on accountability Shahzad Akbar.
As a 10-judge full court, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, continued hearing the petitions against the reference, Justice Isa in a written statement informed the bench that PM Imran owned six properties, Akbar (five), Special Assistant to the PM on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfiqar Bukhari (seven) and Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Youth Affairs Usman Dar have three to his name.
Former federal information minister Firdous Ashiq Awan and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) stalwart Jahangir Tareen each owned a property there as well. In addition, the judge submitted before the court that former military ruler Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf owned two properties in the UK.
Justice Isa submitted the statement in response to SAPM Akbar telling the court that he did not receive any salary or benefit as the head of the Asset Recovery Unit (ARU).
“Taking a cue from what is stated to have transpired in the case of the petitioner’s family, the search engine 192.com was used to search a few known public figures,” the statement read.
The judge clarified that he was “not saying or suggesting, let alone allege” that the people he had identified had illegally acquired any property in the UK in violation of the income tax, the foreign exchange and/or money laundering laws.
“Before an allegation of non-compliance with income tax law is made, the Federal Board of Revenue must check its records [of these individuals] and consider how much taxable income was declared and income-tax paid and whether they had non-taxable income, such as from agricultural land, which the Constitution exempts from payment of income tax.”
Justice Isa further stated that before making an allegation with regard to the illegal transfer of money abroad, the State Bank “must check to determine whether the said individuals had foreign exchange accounts and whether through these accounts money was remitted abroad, to exclude the possibility of it sent to the UK through Hawala, Hundi or by any other illegal means”.
“And, before making an allegation of money laundering the competent authority must first check if the said individuals had committed a crime and the properties were purchased from the proceeds of crime,” he added.
“Assuming that the said individuals had failed in respect of all or any one of the above, they would still be entitled to be asked and given the opportunity to provide an explanation. Without first seeking an explanation and without a shred of evidence an allegation must not be made that the spouses of the said individuals were the real owners of the properties. What surely should never be done is to call upon the said individuals to do the impossible – disprove that the allegation is not true.”
On the PM’s aide claiming that he received no salary or benefit, the judge wondered as to “how he [Akbar] survives”.
“Is he [Akbar] his working wife and/or working children’s dependent? And did they also pay for the services of a renowned lawyer. Or does Mirza Shahzad Akbar make do with the money generated by the, ‘successful recovery including a reward of up to 20% of the ‘recovered amount,” Justice Isa pointed out.
He further noted that a document dated August 20, 2018 that appointed Akbar as the SAPM did not disclose the terms of his appointment.
“The ARU is completely unrestrained and unaccountable, ironically at its head is the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Accountability. This has no parallel in any civilised country of the world. The fact that this was done without legislation, whilst bypassing the elected representatives of the people, subverts democracy and the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” he added.
The judge maintained that the documents setting up the ARU took away a number of fundamental rights which are guaranteed in the Constitution. “Not a single one of the fundamental rights can be curtailed or abridged. The documents which purport to set up ARU are, as the Constitution says, void, that is literally blank spaces (Article 8 of the Constitution),” he added.
“The citizens of Pakistan are governed by laws and have rights, fundamental rights, which no one, not even Parliament, can take away. The federal cabinet does not have legislative power; it cannot change a single punctuation mark in a single law. Members of the federal cabinet take oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the Constitution, not to subvert, violate and destroy it. Parliamentary democracy is a defining feature of the Constitution. To bypass Parliament and make ‘laws’ by executive diktat is a gross transgression of the Constitution.”
Meanwhile during the hearing, the full court remarked that the case against Justice Isa can be thrown out if dishonesty is found.
Justice Bandial remarked that they agree on the accountability of judges, adding that the applicant has contended that the evidence was collected illegally and dishonestly.
“Reference is replete with legal loopholes and generally such cases are disposed of on such mistakes. If dishonesty is found in the reference then it can be disposed of,” said Justice Bandial.
He said ownership of properties in London has been admitted. The question in the case is of the purchase of the property and the petitioner has refused to share the details of the purchase, he further said, adding that the applicant wants the probe to be done legally.
Justice Bandial remarked that the FBR took action against Justice Isa under Articles 116 and 114, adding that the case can go to the judicial council if dishonesty is not found. He directed Barrister Farogh Naseem, the lawyer of the government, to present his arguments on dishonesty and evidence gathered.
Justice Faisal Arab remarked that the only the judicial council can take action against a judge and advised Naseem to think about launching the investigation in Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).
To this, Naseem responded by saying that this can be a better way in the eyes of the court, adding that in the judicial council action against the judges is taken under the rules.
Following which, Justice Mansoor said that the action against the rules will impact someone else, adding that it will impact independent action.
“In this situation violation of rules is also not beneficial,” remarked the judge. While Justice Bandial remarked that they have full faith in the judicial council and what needs to be investigated is whether the property was bought legally or not.
To this, the government lawyer asked the court for time to take advice from the Prime Minister and President, but the bench asked him to present his arguments.
“Under the Services of Pakistan Act, no one can refuse to provide details regarding one’s spouse’s property,” said Naseem. To this, Justice Mansoor asked the lawyer what will happen if the government official’s wife refuses to share the details.
Naseem responded to the question by saying if the wife of a government servant makes such a claim then he may be sent to jail. He added if details of assets are demanded from the public servant then the income tax cannot be used as an excuse.
The government lawyer told the court that the tax record was not sought from the spouse by the government, but it was the judicial council which had summoned it through the FBR.
He added that if he as a parliamentarian does not provide the asset details of his spouse then he can be disqualified.