The Road To Two Becoming Three: Panamagate Ruling
The yearlong exercise that has been the deliberation of the Panama Papers case was to conclude as the Supreme Court vowed to issue an anxiously awaited verdict on the 20th of April. The case has been the one backed by mass hysteria and apprehensive spectators from both camps (PML-N and PTI) were hopeful for a clear-cut decision. However, the judgment neither offered a clean slate to the PML-N nor a disqualification that was anticipated by the petitioners of the case.
While the supporters of Muslim League-N revel in their so-called ‘victory’, they must not ignore the fact that the premier is henceforth running on borrowed time. There is no denying that the verdict grants the PM a probably uncalled for breather and a chance to survive another day – but for how long? Several aspects of the 500+ page judgment must not be disregarded while discussing the happenings of today.
First and foremost, the decision itself was not a unanimous one, but a close 3-2 split. Had the Supreme Court been playing it safe they would’ve and could’ve given a 4-1 or 5-0 vote on the case. The judgment presents two strongly worded dissenting notes by honorable Justices Asif Saeed Khosa and Gulzar Ahmed. In fact, the essence of a dissenting opinion is that it expresses disagreement with the majority opinion; however, in this case, no single judge believes that the PM is not to be disqualified, but rather asks for further investigation ‘for’ his dismissal or that ‘could’ lead to his dismissal. Justice Khosa within his dissent quite evidently ruled against the PM and said that “Nawaz Sharif…has not been honest to the nation, to the representatives of the nation in the National Assembly, and to this court in the matter of explaining possession and acquisition of the relevant properties in London.” Justice Gulzar Ahmed added, “[Nawaz] could not have been so innocent or naive as not to know the owner of the flats in which he has been continuously living for more than six years.” Hence, three judges asking for further investigation and two urging for his dismissal is hardly a reason to celebrate.
Furthermore, from the legal perspective of the Supreme Court, to issue a comprehensive and impartial verdict adequate evidence is always necessary. Neither the claimants’ evidence was sufficient to prove the PM guilty nor was the defense’s evidence enough to attest the ruling party free of charge. However, the evidence brought to court could not be dismissed and it would have been outside the scope of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to itself carry out further investigation. For the apex court to collect additional material it is a procedural matter to form a committee or tribunal to carry out workings to present a report or carry out further investigation. Hence the formation of the JIT is justified and rightly so because more material is needed for the release of a clear-cut decision.
Lastly, not only does the JIT include members of the military and ISI (who do not come under the direct supervision of the ruling party) but brings the PM to an equal footing with the rest involved in the case. The PM will be required to present himself in front of the investigation tribunal and provide a testament in his favor. Moreover, even though easily maneuvered parties such as NAB and FIA are also part of the investigation team, ultimate power still lies with the Supreme Court to issue a final judgment based on the report the tribunal will produce.
This may be a hopeful rant and one that might be turned redundant within the next 60 days, but surely the decision will set some standards for future parliamentarians to come. As the judgment quoted from The Godfather, “Behind every great fortune there is a crime,” the apex court is on the right road to prove this very crime.
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