Islamabad: Neither a clean chit nor a disqualification: the drawn out Supreme Court (SC) case probing the Sharif family’s alleged corruption in the Panamagate case ended today as the court ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe how the family's money was transferred to Qatar. The prime minister and his party breathed a collective sigh of relief, as the fear of an 'extreme verdict' — the premier's ouster — dissolved and gave way to celebrations.
The final verdict was split 3-2 among the five-judge bench, with two dissenting notes in the judgement by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed. The two judges ruled against PM Nawaz Sharif, saying he should be disqualified, whereas the other three were in favour of forming a JIT.
The bench, comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, had examined arguments presented by the PTI, the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), the Watan Party and the All Pakistan Muslim League, who framed the case out of court as a campaign against corruption.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Hasan Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz, retired Capt Muhammad Safdar (the PM's son-in-law) and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar were the respondents in the case.
The petitioners had touted the revelations brought forth in the Panama Papers, published by the International Consortium of Journalists on April 3, 2016, as 'evidence' that the premier had lied to the nation in an address to Parliament where he 'explained' his position following the leaks.
Justice Asif Saeed Khosa began announcing the final verdict in the case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family at Courtroom 1 today at the apex court to an audience of over 400 people, according to TV reports. Justice Ejaz Afzal authored the majority opinion in the 540-page verdict.
"A thorough investigation is required," Justice Khosa said.
The five-judge bench raised questions regarding the money trail for the Sharif family's Gulf steel mill and ordered the JIT to investigate the letter from a Qatari royal - dismissed today by the bench - which was submitted by Sharif's lawyer as evidence in the case.
The detailed SC judgement said: "At the commencement of regular hearing of these petitions it had been decided by this Court with concurrence of the learned counsel for all the parties that it might not be possible for this Court to take stock of the entire gamut of the business activities and personal lives of respondent No. 1 [PM Nawaz Sharif] and his family within the limited scope of these petitions and, therefore, these petitions would be decided by focusing mainly, but not exclusively, on the properties relevant to respondent No. 1 and his children [Maryam Nawaz, Hasan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz] which were revealed through the Panama Papers."
Justice Khosa asserted that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had been unsuccessful in playing their role effectively.
The JIT is to include officials NAB, FIA, State Bank of Pakistan, Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, the bench said, and will be led by a director-general level FIA officer.
The names of members of the JIT must be announced within seven days, and a probe report must be released within 60 days. The JIT must report its progress to the court on a weekly basis.
A special bench will examine the case under Section 184/3 of the Constitution.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters outside the apex court that the verdict was split 3-2. "They have said what the PM already said in his letter - that a commission should be constituted to investigate the matter," he said.
"We are ready for all kinds of investigation," Asif said. "It has been established today that any evidence or sacrifices given by our opponents in the SC were not enough. We have succeeded."
Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal termed it a "historic victory" for the PML-N. "The minority judgement shows that the PTI represents a minority in Pakistan."
"Conspirators have been defeated yet again after the dharna. After suffering successive electoral defeats IK's desire to deseat PM Nawaz Sharif through non-ballot means failed again," Iqbal said in a tweet.