‘The rich rule the law’

Though the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 (Constitution) guarantees that all citizens are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law, the might of the rich to mould the law to their favour seems to be an “exception” to this fundamental right in a country like Pakistan. Oliver Goldsmith, an Irish novelist, playwright, and poet of the 18th century, rightly wrote in his book ‘The Traveller’, “Laws grind the poor and rich men rule the law”. In power corridors, justice is lost at the demise of truth while the poor suffer at the hands of the law.
The context of the above quotation is concerning the law and how the law is different for those sitting in the corridors of power and those electing them to power. A recent example, prima facie, of such discrimination and demise of the truth is the acquittal of one of the most influential female leaders of the ruling party in a famous corruption case. Against the settled laws and Supreme Court judgements is the acquittal of PML-N leader Maryam Safdar and her spouse Mohammad Safdar in the Avenfield Reference as the Islamabad High Court set aside the conviction handed down by an accountability court four years ago. Now, it is expected that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) shall half-heartedly file an appeal against the acquittal of the PML-N leaders. It is admitted fact that in Hudabya’s case of the same family, NAB had not challenged the order of the Honourable Lahore High Court in appellate proceedings before the Supreme Court. Later on, while hearing the Panama Case, it was brought to the notice of the august Supreme Court of Pakistan and the appeal at the belated stage was filed which had to fail, on the point of limitation.
In July 2018, the Accountability Court sentenced Maryam and Safdar to prison besides imposing a fine of two million pounds on the former. Later, they were released on bail upon suspension of sentence, whilst their appeals were pending. A two-member bench, comprising Mr Justice Aamer Farooq and Mr Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani overturned the July 2018 verdict in the Avenfield properties corruption reference and declared: “For the reasons to be recorded later, the instant appeal is allowed,” and the judgement consisting of 173 Pages dated 06.07.2018 was set aside. On 06.07.2018, an Accountability Court announced the verdict in the Avenfield properties corruption reference (Reference No.20/2017 Avenfield Appeal No.16, 16A, 17, 17A) and handed Nawaz Sharif 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income. His daughter, Maryam, was given 7 years for abetment after she was found “instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father”. Nawaz’s son-in-law, Safdar was given 1 year of jail time for aiding and abetting Nawaz and Maryam.
NAB had filed the reference regarding the high-end properties in London whilst acting upon the apex court’s directives in the Panamagate verdict that had disqualified Nawaz as the premier of Pakistan in terms of Articles 62(1(f) of the Constitution. In addition to Nawaz, Maryam, and Safdar, NAB had also nominated Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz as accused in all three corruption references. In October 2021, Maryam filed a new application before the Islamabad High Court seeking annulment of that verdict. She stated in the application that the proceedings that resulted in her conviction were a “classic example of outright violations of law and political engineering hitherto unheard of in the history of Pakistan”. Hearing the latter application, Honourable Mr Justice Kiyani declared that the opinion of the investigating officer could not be considered as evidence. The judge remarked, “The joint investigation team did not present any facts, it just collected information.” Mr Justice Farooq of the Islamabad High Court termed the NAB prosecutor “absolutely wrong” in saying that the determination of value was irrelevant.
The remarks made by Mr Justice, Farooq speak volumes about the rule of law by the rich in the country, “If they admit while standing in the rostrum that they owned the properties, even then the prosecution has to prove [the case against them]” But the fact is that a complete record of the Sharif family’s properties abroad has already been made part of the judicial record. As per the JIT report submitted in the Panamagate case, the Sharifs gave contradictory statements about their London flats. It was found that the flats belonged to the Sharif family since 1993. The report said Hassan Nawaz had contradicted the statement of his brother Hussain Nawaz regarding the Avenfield apartments. The former had earlier stated that only apartment No. 17 was in his possession in 1994, their statements are a part of the record. The Panamagate proceedings were initiated by the Supreme Court on a constitutional petition filed by Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) Chairman and deposed prime minister Imran Khan in October 2016. Imran had sought the disqualification of then-premier Nawaz Sharif on account of not disclosing his London properties. According to the PTI Chief, Nawaz was the real beneficiary of the London properties.
On 20.04.2017, in a judgement, reported as, PLD 2017 SC 265, a larger bench of the apex court formed a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to conduct an inquiry into the purchase of Avenfield apartments by the Sharif family. The petition sought the disqualification of then prime minister Nawaz Sharif for acquiring wealth and assets through corrupt and illegal practices and misuse of authority and indulging in money laundering. The Supreme Court Bench had sought fortnightly reports about its probe. On 10.07.2017, the JIT submitted its final report with new revelations related to the Sharif family’s business affairs. On 28.07.2017, the Court, after viewing the documents, disqualified Nawaz for a lifetime, in terms of Article 61(1)(f) of the Constitution, and ordered NAB to file four references against the Sharif family. The Supreme Court ordered NAB to prepare and file before the Accountability Court references based on the material having any nexus with assets beyond means within six weeks. Against the judgment, dated 28.07.2017, passed by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, review petitions were filed by Nawaz Sharif and others. However, the larger bench headed by Mr Justice Asif Saeed Khosa dismissed the review petitions, on 15.09.2017 (PLD 2018 SC 1).
On 24.12.2018, accountability court judge, Arshad Malik decided the Al-Azizia Reference (Reference No.19/2017, titled, State Vs. Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Hassan Nawaz & Hussain Nawaz) consisting of 131 pages and wrote, that “the prosecution has successfully established the ingredients of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices against the Accused No 1 Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif…as per the charge framed for holding and being the true and real beneficial owner of the assets ASCL (Al-Azizia Steel Mills), HME (Hill Metal Establishment) and related remittances, beyond his known sources of income as he failed to establish contrary thereto.”
As is a matter of public record, the August Supreme Court, as well as the JIT Panama Leaks papers, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and even BBC documentaries have shown documents that the apartments belong to the Sharif family. Also, members of the Sharif family have, on multiple occasions, publicly accepted that the Avenfield Apartment belongs to the Sharif Family. Sharif Family’s admissions do not matter, why? Was Nawaz Sharif’s statement on the floor of Parliament, about Avenfield, merely political? Lying to the Parliament or the nation is not a crime? And whatever the Supreme Court observed in the Panama Judgment does not matter-the Supreme Court isn’t a trial court. But the observations of the august Supreme Court of Pakistan are binding in terms of Article 189 of the Constitution and Hussain Nawaz’s admission had to be taken up seriously.
That the Sharif Family is putting the burden on this aspect that properties were purchased by Mian Muhammad Sharif and have directly been transferred to Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz. The facts are altogether based on a wrong assumption. Whilst hearing a case before the august Supreme Court of Pakistan, the total burden was shifted on the Qatari letter, and on the same pretext, amounts were transferred from Dubai to Saudi Arabia, whereas, no such record was available. But, in any case, a famous case regarding the assessment of Mian Muhammad Sharif’s income for the Tax Year 1988-89, reported as 2016 PTD 296 and PTR No.17 of 1996 was decided on 06.07.2015. Mian Muhammad Sharif had declared his income as 9,36,911 for the tax year 1988-89 which was assessed at Rs5, 666,705 and in the above case, the addition was deleted and the income was assessed at Rs9,36,311. This PTR was pursued by Mian Sharif’s legal heirs after his death. In this view, it is hereby confirmed that neither Mian Muhammad Sharif nor anybody has valid sources of income for the purchase of the above property at Park Lane-known as Avenfield Apartments, therefore, the arguments hold no water in the field, hence, the money-trail needs to be brought on record.
It is also an admitted fact that the Sharif family either Mian Muhammad Sharif, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Kulsoom Nawaz, Hassan Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz, or Maryam Safdar had no sources as declared in the Pakistani Income Tax Record for the purchase of the above property at London and they have not explained that why these properties were purchased in the name of Off-Shore Companies for which beneficial ownership has been admitted by them, thus, one can easily understand that the onus was on Sharif family to prove that the properties have been purchased from a valid or a legal source, but in this case, nothing has been brought on record by the Sharif Family.

The writer is an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan 
and Chairman of the Judicial Activism Panel.

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