Nawaz Sharif disqualified over conduct unbecoming: Supreme Court

ISLAMABAD (Dawn/ANN) - Judgement rejecting review plea says ex-PM tried to fool parliament, court and people by being ‘evasive, non-committal’.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday concluded that denying an asset or defending a trust deed — supposedly written in 2005 in a font that became commercially available in 2007 — was below the dignity and decorum of the office of the prime minister.

The court could not have shut its eyes when an asset, arising out of “Iqama” (work permit), surfaced during the investigation of the Panama Papers case, especially since a much higher level of integrity was expected from the holder of the highest elected office in the land, the apex court said, apparently answering the rhetorical question posed by ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif in nearly every public speech since his disqualification.

These observations came in a detailed 23-page judgement, authored by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, explaining the reasons why a five-judge Supreme Court bench had rejected a number of review petitions instituted against the July 28 verdict disqualifying Nawaz Sharif.

The strongly-worded judgement recalled that when the work permit — which he did not disclose in his nomination papers — was admitted by the former prime minister, the court could not let him get away with it simply because he happened to be the prime minister of the country.

“Resignation rather than prevarication in ambiguous terms is a more honourable exit if and when anything secretly carried under the sanctimonious gown of leadership drops and gets sighted,” Justice Khan observed, summing up the dilemma with the Urdu couplet: Idhar udhar ki na baat kar, yeh bata keh qafla kyon luta. Mujhe rahzanoon se gila nahin teri rehbari ka sawal hai (Don’t beat about the bush, explain why the caravan was robbed. I have no grudge with the dacoits, but doubt your leadership).

In addition, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa also wrote a brief note highlighting that no grounds were presented in the review petitions, nor was any argument advanced questioning his conclusions in his separate opinion recorded in the main case.

“The other members of the bench have not felt persuaded to review their opinions already recorded,” Justice Khosa concluded.

In his judgement, Justice Khan regretted that Mr Sharif had, to the court’s dismay and disappointment, not been fair and forthright in answering any of queries during the course of the hearing.

“He never came forth with the entire truth” and “tried to fool the people inside and outside the parliament,” the judgement regretted.

“He even tried to fool the court without realizing that ‘you can fool all the people for some of the time, some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time’,” the detailed verdict lamented.

Taking “refuge in evasive, equivocal and non-committal replies does not help always. If fortune has throned, crowned and sceptered him to rule the country, his conduct should be above board and impeccable.”

Justice Khan also declared ‘devoid of force’ the arguments that an omission to disclose an un-withdrawn salary was a violation of sections 12 and 13 of the Representation of Peoples Act 1976 and only called for the rejection of nomination papers or the removal of the petitioner from public office, but not his disqualification.

This becomes all the more important when Sharif deliberately concealed his assets and wilfully and dishonestly made a false declaration on solemn affirmation in his nomination papers, the judgement regretted.

Any concession or any leniency to the candidates or the person elected would be a prelude to a catastrophe in politics, the verdict maintained.

“Since it is already touching the extreme, extreme measures have to be taken. The culture of passing the candidates by granting grace marks has not delivered the goods. It has rather corrupted the people and corrupted the system,” Justice Khan observed.

Likewise, the judge held that the argument that the omission in disclosing assets could be unintentional would have been tenable had Sharif been a novice or a new entrant in business and politics.

“But where he has been neck deep in business and politics ever since the early 1980s, it is unbelievable that he did not understand the simple principle of accounting that his accrued and accumulated salary of six and a half years was his asset and liability of the company he was an employee of. Even otherwise, this argument cannot be given much weight when it has not been pleaded by Sharif that the omission to mention the asset was accidental, inadvertent or unintentional,” the judgement said.

The argument that disqualification would have been unwarranted if the former PM had not been given a fair chance to vindicate his position, the court said, adding that not only did the bench afford him a fair chance to vindicate himself, but also heard him at length and accepted whatever he stated about his work permit, employment contract with Capital FZE and his entitlement to the salary.

The judgement said the purpose behind issuing directions to the trial court to decide the references against Sharif within 6 months was to ensure the expeditious conclusion of the case.

Likewise, the practice of appointing a supervisory judge of the Supreme Court has been in vogue for a long time and the purpose behind this is to guard against intrusion of casualness in the proceedings before the trial court. By no stretch of imagination does such a practice imply that the monitoring judge would in any way influence or interfere with the decision-making process of the trial court, the judgement explained.

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