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December 16,2016

Making sense of the leaks

Muneeb Farooq

It started as leaked details but it has hit the world in a big way. Pakistan is one of those countries where the Panama Papers have had an impact on the political spectrum. It was like a divine gift for the Imran Khan-led PTI, which saw the Panama leaks as yet another chance for its business of agitation-based politics.

The narrative sold among the masses since it reinforced the idea that the ruling is elite is corrupt and sluggish. And so the bandwagon of the battle against corruption was supported by almost all the parties in opposition. For the PPP it became a leverage to settle scores. However, the lack of consensus amongst the opposition has benefitted the PML-N government as on his own Imran Khan could only manage to keep the Panama leaks issue alive but couldn’t formulate a big movement.

For the ruling PML-N it has been a nightmare. Although there was nothing new in the details revealed, the material contradictions by the family in the media and the inaccurate statements by overzealous cabinet members only obfuscated the entire issue. The prime minister’s address to the nation and the speech in parliament, which should have helped clear the air, did not result in the desired outcome.

The Supreme Court started to look at the case in a purely legal way. The case has been a legal discourse where political rhetoric hasn’t helped the petitioners or the respondents in the nine hearings held so far. The court was mainly asked to adjudicate on three issues.

First, the ownership of the London flats. Second, Maryam Safdar’s status as the beneficial owner or trustee in the offshore companies which own the London flats. And third, her dependence issue. There have been some major problems with the petitioner’s accusations and the replies filed by the respondents.

For the PTI and the other petitioners, the mere assertion that the London flats were purchased by ill-gotten money does not suffice in a court of law. Moreover, the Supreme Court clearly asked the petitioners to provide evidence that shows that the ruling Sharif family had ownership of the infamous London flats before 2005-6. This evidence has not been provided.

Whether Maryam Safdar is the beneficial owner or trustee of the offshore companies is yet to be adjudicated upon by the Supreme Court. On this, the PTI and the petitioners have relied on the ICIJ’s documents whereas the PML-N has depended on a trust deed signed between Maryam Safdar and Hussain Nawaz in the year 2005. However, some very valid questions were raised by the PTI’s lead counsel Naeem Bukhari about Maryam Safdar’s dependence issue. These questions are yet to be completely answered by the prime minister’s lawyer.

It is quite shocking to see that all the petitioners, including the PTI, couldn’t come up with single piece of evidence that appears to implicate the prime minister directly. However, the notable inconsistency in the prime minister’s speech and the letter from Qatar’s royal family has given a setback to the government’s case altogether. This may not impact the case legally but it certainly has impacted the moral side of the government’s stance – and hence the ruckus in the National Assembly.

It appears that the petitioners may not be able to gain their desired objective even in the next set of hearings in the Supreme Court. The PTI needs undeniable evidence which does not appear to be in sight. As reported by the media, the observation of Justice Khosa was quite instructive when he referred to the evidence submitted by the petitioners as “sketchy images”. The courts do not take them into account.

The writer works for Geo News.

Email: muneebfarooqraja gmail.com


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