Irshad Salim — Pakistan’s top court on Friday concluded its hearing into corruption allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family, but it wasn’t immediately clear when the tribunal would announce its decision, defense lawyers and attorneys for the petitioners said.
Legal experts are of the opinion that the Supreme Court after having reserved its judgment on Friday will deliberate whether to disqualify the premier or to refer the matter to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for fresh investigation and corruption trial.
Justice Azmat Saeed asked the defense lawyer if the case should be sent to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). “The case requires further investigations,” said Salman Akram Raja as he concluded his arguments.
Justice Ejaz Afzal, part of three-member bench said the decision to disqualify the prime minister would have to be based on whether or not he hid his assets, adding that if Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz is not proven as the PM’s dependent, then her ownership of the London flats is not enough to disqualify the premier.
Under Pakistani law, the Supreme Court has the authority to dismiss the prime minister. Sharif has maintained his innocence throughout the scandal and has appeared before the investigating team in recent weeks, along with his daughter and two sons.
Sharif’s allies interpret the court’s decision not to summon the PM during the hearings as indicating that it will order a NAB investigation. Such an outcome would be seen as something of a victory by the ruling PML-N party because it would probably allow Sharif to finish his term and even contest the next polls in 2018.
The court heard arguments from both the government side and the opposition during this week after a court-ordered civil-military member-comrpised investigation team found there was a “significant disparity” between the declared wealth and known sources of income of Sharif’s family.
Now a three-judge panel will weigh whether the evidence is adequate to dismiss Sharif from office and may take few weeks more before it gives its ruling.
“The Supreme Court today concluded the hearing of this case and it will set a date for announcing the judgment later,” said Salman Akram Raja, Sharif family lawyer.
Fawad Chaudhry, a lawyer representing the opposition party led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, said their side hopes Sharif will be disqualified.
Opposition lawmakers have been fighting a legal battle to disqualify the prime minister since leaked documents from a Panama-based law firm in 2016 disclosed his family’s offshore accounts.
The Supreme Court, acting on petitions from opposition lawmakers, established a six-member team to investigate the corruption allegations involving Sharif’s family, including his daughter and two sons.
Earlier in July, the team submitted a voluminous report to the court to support its conclusion that a “significant disparity” existed between the Sharif family’s declared wealth and its known sources of income.
The report suggested the court take action against Sharif and his family in accordance with a 1999 accountability law intended to help stamp out corruption. Sharif has sought to discredit the investigators, accusing them of bias.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Khursheed Shah, from the party of the Bhuttos, said Sharif still has the time to resign rather than be disqualified by the court.
If Sharif is disqualified or asked to step down until NAB completes its investigation and trial, his Pakistan Muslim League, which holds a majority of seats in Parliament, can choose another prime minister.
One of the judges Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan in the April 20 order had said, “Let respondent No. 1 (prime minister) go through all the phases of investigation, trial and appeal. We would not leap over such phases in gross violation of Article 25 of the Constitution which is the heart and the soul of the rule of law.”
Justice Khan said that for an individual case, the court would not dispense with due process and thereby undo, obliterate and annihilate its jurisprudence which it built up in centuries.
The judge had also observed that a reading of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution and Section 99 of the ROPA would reveal that none of them requires any member of parliament to account for his assets or those of his dependents even if they are disproportionate to his known means of income.
He had noted that Section 12(2)(f) of the ROPA required an MP to disclose his assets and those of his spouse and dependents and not the means whereby such assets were acquired.
“Where none of the provisions of the Constitution or the Act dealing with disqualifications requires a member of parliament to account for his assets and those of his dependents, even if they are disproportionate to his known means of income, how could this court on its own or on a petition of any person under Article 184(3) of the Constitution require him to do that, and declare that he is not honest and ameen if he does not account for such assets,” he added.
After Friday’s court hearing, Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb said the government had “serious reservations” about the court’s investigating team, adding that it failed to prove corruption allegations beyond reasonable doubt.
She said Sharif met with his advisers later Friday and that they “hope and expect that the court will do justice,” she said. Aurangzeb insisted the opposition has conspired against Sharif since 2013, when he came into power.
Sharif, who served as prime minister two times before his current term, has said he inherited his wealth from his father, who accumulated his fortune prior to the son’s entry into politics in the 1980s. Sharif also says he established a steel mill abroad when he was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who seized power from Sharif in a 1999 coup.