Niazi v. Nawaz, the case continues

Calls for the PM's resignation grow louder after investigation

Niazi v. Nawaz, the case continues
Pakistan’s ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and its splenetic opposition party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, are bracing for another, possibly more excruciating (but less monotonous) legal and political battle as a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has told the country’s top court that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family wealth exceeded their known sources of income.

In its final report on what is known as the Panama case, the JIT has suggested that a corruption case could be registered against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It also found other wrongdoings such as money laundering and concealment of wealth. Key federal ministers have reacted by describing the JIT report as “a piece of trash”. They vowed to challenge it in the Supreme Court when the hearings in Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi v. Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif resume on July 17 (see timeline).

For his part, PTI Chairman Imran Khan has demanded the resignations of the prime minister, Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and key federal ministers. The ruling party announced that neither would the prime minister resign nor would the National Assembly be prematurely dissolved.

The Supreme Court still has to decide whether a sitting prime minister can be disqualified on the basis of whatever evidence has been collected against him by the JIT investigators.


Hit by one controversy after another, the JIT took 60 days to prepare its report after interviewing members of the “ruling” family and other key players.

From the get-go it was assailed. The government objected to what it said was the way in which some JIT members were handpicked over a WhatsApp call. Barrister Ali Zafar has argued that the honourable judges had violated their own verdict by directing the institutions concerned to nominate specific people to the JIT. That was beginning of the controversy. The government smelled a rat. The PTI tried to shoot the messenger. The registrar of the Supreme Court declined to confirm or deny the contents of the WhatsApp story.

Then, according to published reports, the registrar wanted Security & Exchange Commission of Pakistan chairman, Zafar Hijazi, to include the name of Bilal Rasool in the JIT. (One of Mr Rasool’s family members is an active member of the PTI, which signalled a possible conflict of interest.) However, the court rejected the government’s appeal to recuse him, and another JIT member, Amir Aziz, from the investigation. (Now Hijazi faces criminal charges for allegedly tampering with the record of the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case against the Sharif family. He is also accused of pressuring his subordinates to do the tampering. He may become collateral damage.)

Then, the inclusion of members of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) in the JIT was another decision by the Supreme Court that was not appreciated across the board. After that, management and administrative control of the JIT was tacitly given to the ISI in order to maintain secrecy, given the sensitivity of the case.

Further controversy erupted when an ‘unknown’ person from an ‘unknown’ institution leaked a photograph of the prime minister’s son Hassan Nawaz ahead of JIT questioning. State institutions came under fire. On the instructions of the SC, the JIT investigated the matter and informed the judges that they had identified the ‘unknown’ person and sent him back to his parent organization. His name remains a mystery. Judges told the government in plain words it could disclose the name or form a commission if it deemed appropriate. The government wanted the SC to make that decision. Sources said advisors told Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to refrain from pressing the matter as it might not augur well for civil-military relations. “Was that fair? An unknown person from an unknown institution leaked the picture from an in-camera session. Something was not right there,” commented the prime minister’s spokesman, Dr Musadiq Malik. When asked who he thought was conspiring against a sitting prime minister, he turned evasive, blaming everything on the “same elements” which used to conspire against democratic governments in the past.


After 60 days of arduous work, the JIT members stated: the lifestyle of the prime minister and his family members does not match their known sources of income. They also concluded that members of the “ruling” family made illegal transfers of money to each other. The JIT referred to Section 9 of the National Accountability Ordinance, suggesting that a reference be filed against the prime minister and his children. The National Accountability Bureau, whose chairman was appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the Opposition, might be directed to file it.

The 254-page report to the SC read: “Failure on the part of all respondents to produce the requisite information confirming ‘known sources of income’ is prima facie tantamount to not being able to justify assets and the means of income.” It also dilated on the matter of offshore companies and the ownership of London flats which became the basis of this very case. The court handed over copies of the JIT to the parties concerned so they can review and submit their replies.


Sources close to the JIT told TFT that owing to the exhaustive and sensitive nature of their work, the lives of the JIT members changed during the past 60 days. The apex court accepted their request for security. Sources said the JIT members were also concerned about their careers, since all of them were public servants and in undertaking this task, may have attracted the ire of their bosses. (The Supreme Court has charged with contempt PML-N’s Nehal Hashmi who threatened those investigating the Sharif family. His controversial remarks were made in a video that went viral on May 31).

Lawyer Salman Akram Raja observed that the JIT report was not a verdict against the Sharif family. “It’s an investigation report with recommendatory value,” he said. “The honourable judges will deliberate on its contents and make their decision.”

Senior ministers have already stated that any JIT report that did not contain the statement of Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, one of the key witnesses who could establish the money trail for the Sharif businesses abroad. During earlier proceedings, before the formation of the JIT, the SC had rejected a letter from him.

The prince refused to recognize the jurisdiction of Pakistani law and courts on him. He did, however, write several letters to the JIT, stating that he stood by every word he had written in his letter to the Supreme Court. He invited the JIT members to his palace or office to record his statement. The JIT did not respond.

After the JIT submitted its report, last Monday, PTI chairman Imran Khan repeated himself: “I demand the Prime Minister tender his resignation immediately. [The] Game is over. Nawaz [Sharif] will vacate Prime Minister House any time,” he asserted. He has urged the court to put the PM’s name on the Exit Control List.

Legal experts say the court now has a few options. First, it may direct NAB to file a reference against the prime minister and his children. Secondly, the court may invoke its jurisdiction under Article 184(3) and pass judgement on the basis of the JIT report.

Case timeline

April 2016: The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists makes public 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law first Mossack Fonseca. They contain details of eight offshore companies with links to the Sharifs. The companies bought luxury London real estate from 2006 to 2007. Facing criticism, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tries to form a judicial commission. No progress is made for several reasons.

August 2016: PTI’s Imran Khan files a petition in the Supreme Court to disqualify Nawaz Sharif as prime minister.

November 2016: The hearings begin.

April 2017: The Supreme Court comes to a decision, saying that there is not enough evidence to remove Nawaz Sharif from office. It orders a JIT to conduct an investigation.

July 2017: The JIT submits its report, requesting NAB file references against Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam and his sons.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist. He tweets @OldPakistan_