Behind every great fortune there is a crime: Supreme Court on The God Father in #PanamaPapers Order


The popular 1969 novel ‘The Godfather’ by Mario Puzo recounted the violent tale of a Mafia family and the epigraph selected by the author was fascinating:

Behind every great fortune there is a crime- Balzac

The novel was a popular sensation which was made into an acclaimed film. It isbelieved that this epigraph was inspired by a sentence that was written by Honoré de Balzac and its original version in French reads as follows:

Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’il a été proprement fait.

(The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed)

It is ironical and a sheer coincidence that the present case revolves around that very sentence attributed to Balzac as through Constitution Petition No. 29 of 2016 it has been alleged by the petitioner namely Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi, Chairman of a political party named Tehreek-e-Insaf, that while holding high public offices in the State of Pakistan over a stretched period of time respondent No. 1 namely Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, the incumbent Prime Minister of Pakistan, and through him his immediate family has amassed huge wealth and assets which have been acquired through means which were illegal and unfair, practices which were unlawful and corrupt and exercise of public authority which was misused and abused. Through Constitution Petition No. 30 of 2016 Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed petitioner, Chairman of a political party named Awami Muslim League, and through Constitution Petition No. 3 of 2017 Siraj-ul-Haq petitioner, Ameer of another political party named Jamaat-e-Islami, have also agitated the same issue. All the above mentioned petitioners have inter alia prayed that it may be declared by this Court that respondent No. 1 in Constitution Petition No. 29 of 2016 (who is respondent No. 4 in the other two petitions) is not “honest” and “ameen” within the purview of Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 and, thus, he is disqualified from being a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament). Some other reliefs have also been prayed for by the petitioners and the same shall also be dealt with by me at appropriate stages of the present judgment. For facility of reference Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif shall be referred to in this judgment as respondent No. 1, his daughter namely Mariam Safdar shall be referred to as respondent No. 6, his son-in-law namely Captain (Retired) Muhammad Safdar shall be referred to as respondent No. 9, his sons namely Mr. Hussain Nawaz Sharif and Mr. Hassan Nawaz Sharif shall be referred to as respondents No. 7 and 8 respectively and his Samdhi (father-in-law of one of his daughters) namely Mr. Muhammad Ishaq Dar shall be referred to as respondent No. 10 as arrayed in Constitution Petition No. 29 of 2016. We have been informed by the learned counsel for respondent No. 1 that the said respondent has so far held the following high public offices:

Minister for Finance, Excise and Taxation, Government of the Punjab

(from April 25, 1981 to February 28, 1985)

Chief Minister, Government of the Punjab

(from April 09, 1985 to May 30, 1988)

Caretaker Chief Minister, Government of the Punjab

(from May 31, 1988 to December 02, 1988)

Chief Minister, Government of the Punjab

(from December 02, 1988 to August 06, 1990)

Prime Minister of Pakistan

(from November 06, 1990 to April 18, 1993)

Prime Minister of Pakistan

(from May 26, 1993 to July 18, 1993)

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly

(from October 19, 1993 to November 05, 1996)

Prime Minister of Pakistan

(from February 17, 1997 to October 12, 1999)

Prime Minister of Pakistan

(from June 05, 2013 till date)

A younger brother of respondent No. 1 namely Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif has also served in the past as Chief Minister, Government of the Punjab for many terms and even presently he is holding that high public office. A Samdhi of respondent No. 1 namely Mr. Muhammad Ishaq Dar, respondent No. 10 herein, has remained and is also the present Federal Minister for Finance and a nephew of respondent No. 1 is a Member of the National Assembly at present. In an interview with Mr. Hamid Mir and Mr. Sohail Warraich telecast on Geo News television on November 17, 2009 respondent No. 1 had maintained that he belonged to a business family and he had claimed that the members of his family who were in politics (including respondent No. 1 himself) had decided in the year 1997 to disassociate themselves from the family business. The contents of the said interview have never been denied or controverted by respondent No. 1 and nothing has been brought on the record of this case to show how and when the claimed disassociation had actually come about, if at all. It is, however, not disputed that between 1981 and 1997 respondent No. 1’s public offices and his business interests coincided and coexisted.

2. In the last two and a half decades there had been a constant murmur nationally as well internationally about respondent No. 1 indulging in corruption, corrupt practices and money laundering, etc. with the active assistance and involvement of respondent No. 10 and some specified properties in London, United Kingdom had been identified as having been acquired by respondent No. 1 through ill-gotten or laundered money. In that regard the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had come out with a documentary, the British newspaper Guardian had published a story about it, Mr. Raymond W. Baker had mentioned some specific details about it in his book ‘Capitalism’s Achilles Heel’ (published in 2005 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey) and some prosecutions had been launched against respondents No. 1 and 10 and others locally by the Federal Investigation Agency and the National Accountability Bureau. However, this time it all started ominously on April 03, 2016 when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released some information leaked from the internal database of a law firm named Mossack Fonseca based in Panama. The said information was published in the print and electronic media worldwide on April 04, 2016 disclosing details of a large number of offshore companies established in different countries providing tax havens and owned or controlled by hundreds of persons and entities based in different countries of the world. The information so disclosed also revealed that many political and public figures in different countries and their families, including the children of respondent No. 1 herein, held or owned valuable assets in different parts of the world through such offshore companies. The political uproar that followed forced some political figures in the world to resign from high public offices and others to submit explanations in the parliaments whereas in some countries high powered bodies were constituted to inquire into the allegations of corruption, corrupt practices and money laundering, etc. adopted in the matter. Respondent No. 1 happens to be the elected Prime Minister of our country and the political tumult arising out of the so-called Panama Papers compelled him to explain his position by addressing the nation twice on radio and television and the National Assembly once, abortive attempts were made to constitute a Judicial Commission to inquire into the allegations leveled against respondent No. 1 and his immediate family and ultimately the present Constitution Petitions were filed before this Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973. In the backdrop of an unfortunate refusal/failure on the part of all the relevant institutions in the country like the National Accountability Bureau, the Federal Investigation Agency, the State Bank of Pakistan, the Federal Board of Revenue, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and the Speaker of the National Assembly to inquire into or investigate the matter or to refer the matter to the Election Commission of Pakistan against respondent No. 1, who is the Chief Executive of the Federation, and his family it was decided by a Larger Bench of this Court on November 03, 2016 with reference to some precedent cases that these petitions involve some serious questions of public importance with reference to enforcement of some Fundamental Rights conferred by Chapter 1 of Part II of the Constitution and, therefore, the same are maintainable before this Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. On that occasion none of the parties to these petitions raised any objection to competence and maintainability of these petitions and even before the present reconstituted Larger Bench (which includes a majority of the members of the earlier Larger Bench) no such objection has been raised at any stage of the protracted hearings.

3. 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 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 which were revealed through the Panama Papers. The details of the said properties are as follows:

  1. Property No. 17, Avenfield House, Park Lane, London W1K 7AF, United Kingdom

(owned by a Panama based offshore company named Nescoll Limited since June 01, 1993),

(ii) Property No. 16, Avenfield House, Park Lane, London W1K 7AF, United Kingdom

(owned by a Panama based offshore company named Nielsen Enterprises Limited since July 31, 1995),

(iii) Property No. 16a, Avenfield House, Park Lane, London W1K 7AF, United Kingdom

(owned by a Panama based offshore company named Nielsen Enterprises Limited since July 31, 1995) and

(iv) Property No. 17a, Avenfield House, Park Lane, London W1K 7AF, United Kingdom

(owned by a Panama based offshore company named Nescoll Limited since July 23, 1996).

It may be pertinent to mention here that during the course of hearing of these petitions it has come to light that there have been and are many other properties and businesses owned by respondent No. 1’s immediate family not only in Pakistan but also in many other countries the value of which statedly runs into billions of Rupees or US Dollars. The net worth of just the above mentioned four properties, situated in one of the most expensive areas of London, is stated to be many millions of Pounds Sterling and they had statedly come into the ownership of only one of the sons of respondent No. 1 namely Mr. Hussain Nawaz Sharif (respondent No. 7 herein). Another son of respondent No. 1 namely Mr. Hassan Nawaz Sharif (respondent No. 8 herein) separately owns many companies and properties worth millions of Pounds Sterling and a daughter of respondent No. 1 namely Mariam Nawaz Sharif, also known as Mariam Safdar, (respondent No. 6 herein) also holds some valuable properties in her own name. None of the children of respondent No. 1 has ever claimed that the businesses set up or the properties acquired in his/her name had initially been set up or acquired through any personal earning or resources of his/her own.

4. Concise statements/replies to these petitions had been filed by all the contesting respondents and elaborate arguments had been heard by us from all the sides on all the relevant issues. During the hearing of these petitions the following issues inter alia had primarily been debated before us:

(a) What is the scope of the proceedings before this Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution and whether disputed or intricate questions of fact can be decided in such proceedings with or without recording of evidence?

(b) Whether the above mentioned four properties in London in particular, statedly acquired in the name of Mr. Hussain Nawaz Sharif, a son of respondent No. 1, had been acquired by respondent No. 1 and his family through funds legitimately generated and transferred and whether acquisition of those assets has duly and properly been explained and accounted for by respondent No. 1 or his children?

(c) Whether respondent No. 1 and his children have any decent explanation available for acquiring properties and setting up various businesses in general in different parts of the world?

(d) Whether respondent No. 1 is not “honest” or “ameen” as required by Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution as he has failed to duly account for his and his immediate family’s wealth and assets and his various explanations advanced before the nation, the National Assembly and this Court in that regard have been evasive, contradictory, unproved and untrue rendering him disqualified from being elected to or from being a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)?

(e) Whether Mariam Safdar, a daughter of respondent No. 1, was respondent No. 1’s ‘dependent’ in the year 2013 and in his nomination papers filed for election to the National Assembly in the general elections held in that year respondent No. 1 had failed to disclose such dependency and had, thus, been guilty of suppression of a material fact for which the necessary legal consequences ought to follow?

(f) Whether respondent No. 1 had been evading taxes and he had thereby rendered himself disqualified from being elected to or from being a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)?

(g) Whether some allegations of indulging in corruption, corrupt practices and money laundering, etc. leveled against respondent No. 1, respondent No. 10 and some others in the past had unduly been scuttled through some judicial recourses and what would be the remedies available for reopening of those allegations and for their prosecution?

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