Wednesday, 18 July 2018

London flats bought thru Qatari investments: Sharifs

ISLAMABAD – The Sharif family yesterday, during the hearing of Panama leaks case, submitted documentary evidence with a letter from a Qatari prince before the Supreme Court as being ‘legitimate’ owners of their London flats, claiming the property in question was purchased with the proceeds of real estate investments in Qatar. As the five-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, resumed hearing of constitutional petitions of PTI, Jamaat-e-Islami, Awami Muslim League and Tariq Asad advocate, former attorney general Salman Aslam Butt submitted documents on behalf of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Akram Sheikh on behalf of Maryam Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz. The documents, containing details of transactions and receipts of payments, said the London flats were purchased through the settlement of accounts between the Sharif family and Al-Thani family in Qatar. The Sharif family document contained a letter from Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabar Al-Thani of Qatar, which said, “Mian Muhammad Sharif expressed his desire to invest a certain amount of money in real estate business of Al-Thani family in Qatar. Around 12 million dirhams originating from the sale of business in Dubai, UAE, were contributed by Sharif.”

“Sharif said the beneficiary of his investment and returns in the real estate business is his grandson Hussain Nawaz Sharif. In 2006, the accounts in relation to the investment were settled between Hussain Nawaz and Al-Thani family,” the letter further said. The documents said on account of longstanding business and personal relations of Al-Thani family with late Mian Muhammad Sharif, Al-Thani allowed Sharif and his family to use flats No 16, 16a, 17 and 17a, Avenfield House, Park Lane, London, while bearing all expenses, including the ground rent and service charges. The court was informed that after exile from Pakistan on December 10, 2000, Muhammad Sharif advised Al-Thani family that the said investment, together with its cumulative return, would be for the benefit of his eldest grandson, Hussain Nawaz. “Ultimately, in 2006, the accounts between Al-Thani family and Hussain Nawaz were settled and the properties were transferred by delivery of the bearer shares to Hussain Nawaz. Since then the properties are being owned by Hussain Nawaz,” says the joint statement. The court was informed that Maryam Nawaz was a trustee for the benefit of Hussain Nawaz in pursuance of a trust deed of 2006, which was executed between her and her brother, Hussain Nawaz.

The joint statement said on January 2, 1972, Ittefaq Foundries was nationalised without any compensation. It was contended that in 1973, after a severe victimisation and unfair treatment of the then government, Muhammad Sharif proceeded to United Arab Emirates and set up Gulf Steel Mills in 1974 in Dubai. Mian Muhammad Sharif carried on this business through his nephew Muhammad Tariq Shafi while Muhammad Hussain was a partner in the company. They said the then government of Dubai, respecting the knowledge, know-how and experience of Mian Muhammad Sharif, not only granted him leased land for the factory but also provided all utility connections required for the factory. “The steel mills belonging to the company was established by obtaining loans from a domestic bank in Dubai, so no amounts were transferred or remitted from Pakistan for setting up, financing or running this business,” the statement said. The counsel before presenting the letter requested the court not to make the contents of the document public. Chief Justice Jamali remarked that when this letter was made part of the record it would automatically go public. As soon as the judges read the letter, they started raising questions about it. Responding to Qatari Prince Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani’s letter, Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa asked the Sharif family’s counsel whether the prince would appear in court as a witness.

Justice Ejaz-ul-Hassan asked, “Will this person appear as a witness and be cross-examined?” Upon that Akram Sheikh said that he was a foreign dignitary and he could not say anything about that. Justice Khosa observed that the contents of the letter were nothing but hearsay. He asked Akram Sheikh “If you have nothing else in this regard. Where is your money trail?” The Chief Justice said they would decide about the letter when regular hearing of the case started. The bench told Akram Sheikh this letter might go against their case. Justice Khosa further said: “Nawaz Sharif who is my PM and everyone’s PM, on the floor of the National Assembly stated that his father had set up a steel mill in Jeddah and in 2005 he sold it and purchased London flats from that money. This document changes his testimony before the National Assembly,” Khosa added. At the resumption of the hearing, the court asked Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, one of the petitioners in the Panama leaks case, not to burden the court with irrelevant documents. The apex court asked PTI not to bury the truth as the whole nation wanted to know the fact in the Panama leaks case. “Don’t bury the truth. People like to know the truth,” observed Justice Azmat Saeed. He told the PTI counsel that he had burdened the court with “irrelevant documents, this is very unfair.”

PTI counsel Hamid Khan on November 14 submitted a plethora of documents, including newspapers’ clippings, articles and a complete book written by Asad Kharral, on behalf of PTI chief Imran Khan. The judge asked Hamid Khan how newspapers’ articles can be considered as evidence. “Today’s newspaper is used tomorrow for wrapping ‘Pakoras’. Suppose if a statement is published in a newspaper that Allah Ditta has killed Allah Rakha. Will the court hang him on the basis of the newspaper’s story?” the judge questioned. The PTI counsel sought time to examine the documents submitted by Nawaz Sharif and his children. The court, accepting his plea, adjourned the hearing till Thursday. Tariq Asad, another petitioner, said the court should not show haste in this case as it would be injustice to other parties. He asked the court to investigate all those, including General (r) Pervez Musharraf, who possessed offshore companies. The chief justice asked him if he did not want the court to decide the case. He said if they began probe into corruption since 1947, it would take decades.

Justice Jamali said they had taken Imran Khan’s petition as a test case and wanted to decide it within a short span of time. He affirmed they would analyse the documents related to the flats of the Sharif family. The court said, after examining the documents, they would decide on constituting a commission to probe those having offshore companies. Justice Azmat said PTI’s focus in the earlier hearings was on the four flats owned by the Sharif family in the United Kingdom, but in 686 documents, they are demanding investigation into other issues pertaining to the PM. The judge further remarked the PTI had also relied on the documents of Rehman Malik whose name was also mentioned in the Panama leaks. The chief justice said if they formed a commission on the basis of these documents, it would take months to decide the case and later the parties would say that the commission did not consider their documents. He remarked since technology was so advanced that the documents seemed to be original. The chief justice said if the institutions failed to perform their duties, the Supreme Court should not be blamed. The counsel for Jamaat-e-Islami urged the court to first assess all the documents and then form a commission so that everyone could have equal opportunity to present his point of view. Sheikh Rashid said the whole nation was looking at the court. He said the documents from the Qatari rulers had been produced, adding another document might come from Mahatma Gandhi, attested by Narendra Modi. He said SC judgments say, “Once a liar is always a liar”. Meanwhile, a two-member bench, comprising Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali and Justice Amir Hani Muslim, while hearing the petition of PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi, directed Imran Khan and Jehangir Tareen to file concise statements. The court said that after examining the statements of Khan and Jahangir Tareen they will decide whether or not to club them with the Panama case. The case was deferred until next week.

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