‘Making offshore companies for tax evasion is wrong’
ISLAMABAD: A larger bench of the Supreme Court hearing the Panamagate case on Thursday reminded Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s counsel that the case before them concerns Sharif’s qualification as PM and not the 2013 General Election.
Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed during the hearing observed that the case challenges Nawaz Sharif’s hold on the prime minister’s office.
Here Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who heads the five-judge bench, pointed out that the time-frame in which the appointment of the PM can be challenged following the election through Article 225 is limited. Justice Khosa said that once this time period expires, the court can be asked to review the appointment under Articles 184/3 and Article 199.
Justice Asif Khosa said offshore companies are not illegal. “Tax evasion and concealing assets is illegal,” he said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s counsel who completed his arguments Thursday, told the Supreme Court that the government of Pakistan owns two offshore companies.
“Two Pakistani state hotels, Roosevelt in USA and Scribe in France, are owned by offshore companies,” Makhdom Ali Khan said while giving his arguments. “Establishing offshore companies is not illegal,” the premier’s counsel maintained.
To this, Justice Khosa asked if the premier’s counsel was trying to justify his client’s offshore businesses by citing references of two state hotels. “Owning an offshore company is not an issue but the issue is of concealment of wealth and tax evasion,” the apex court judge clarified.
Justice Khosa further remarked that the top court while exercising Article 184-3 of the Constitution can examine the qualification or disqualification of the prime minister as “it is a matter of public importance.”
Meanwhile, Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh, during the course of hearing, observed that SC cannot disqualify PM Nawaz by relying on disputed documents.
The premier’s counsel once again maintained before the larger bench that he was not raising objection over the maintainability of the petition against the prime minister but said, “The court cannot disqualify him on available material”.
Justice Khosa stated that this case concerns the whole nation because the defendant is the prime minister of the country.
The PM’s counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan also informed the court that arguments on the London flats will be delivered by Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s counsel, Shahid Hamid. He also told the court that Maryam Nawaz’s counsel will also provide the dates and legal documents of the properties bought in Maryam’s name. Justice Khosa enquired if the father bought the land in the daughter’s name.
Justice Ejaz Afzal observed that usually parents buy property in the name of children that are dependent upon them. The National Accountability Bureau ordinance contains the definition of benami transactions but not of dependence remarked Justice Khosa. We will have to decide what the definition of dependence is while keeping the case in mind, Justice Ejaz Afzal replied.
Arguing on the matter of Maryam Nawaz’s status as a dependent, Makhdoom Ali Khan said that Nawaz Sharif bought property in her name and once she paid the cost the land was transferred to her, adding that not every transaction can be termed benami as benami transactions have a particular legal definition.
On this, Justice Ijazul Hassan remarked that the counsel himself had mentioned that the premier bought property in his daughter’s name.
Makhdoom Ali Khan then read out a verdict given by Justice Khosa in a previous benami transaction case. Justice Ejaz Afzal observed that the verdicts cited by Khan pertained to cases where a dispute arose between two parties regarding the ownership of property. In the current case, the dispute is not about which of the two parties owns the property, he added. Justice Afzal, recalling case details, said that PM Sharif first gave his daughter money. Then when she returned the amount, she received property in return, he said.
The judge observed that this occurrence made it appear as though Maryam Nawaz was dependent on her father at the time.
The court can only accept verified documents as evidence under article 78, Justice Ejaz Afzal remarked. He asked for solid evidence in the case, as a verdict based on assumptions could not be handed out. “If the Supreme Court disqualifies [the Prime Minister] then not just in this life, you will take this ugly label to your grave,” he said. Counsel for the prime minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, Advocate Shahid Hamid presented evidence regarding her property.
Justice Asif Khosa asked, “Was land bought by the father on her daughter’s name?” Advocate Shahid Hamid submitted details of the dates when the property was purchased, as well as other related documents.
Justice Gulzar stated that a verdict on Maryam Nawaz’s status as a dependent could be made on the basis of the facts presented in court. He added that the matter of her dependence is of concern and that facts should be provided on the matter. Makhdoom Ali Khan reiterated that Maryam Nawaz is not dependent on anyone and is financially independent. The premier’s daughter’s assets show how she finances herself, Khan argued, adding that her counsel, Shahid Hamid, would present more evidence regarding the matter.
The hearing has been adjourned till Friday.