• PTI submits documents to establish Maryam beneficial owner of firm that holds London flats
• PM brings in new legal team
ISLAMABAD: A day ahead of the Panama Papers leaks case hearing by a slightly different Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children and son-in-law changed their lawyers, while the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf submitted a set of additional documents to the court.
Soon after taking the oath on Dec 31, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had constituted the five-judge bench comprising Justice Khosa, Justice Ejaz Afzal, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan to resume the hearing of the Panamagate case on Wednesday.
Senior counsel Salman Aslam Butt has been replaced by Makhdoom Ali Khan to defend the prime minister and a formal application in this regard has been submitted to the court.
Likewise, Maryam Nawaz and her husband retired Capt Mohammad Safdar will be represented by Advocate Shahid Hamid in place of Mohammad Akram Sheikh. Senior counsel Salman Akram Raja will appear on behalf of Hussain Nawaz, the elder son of the prime minister.
Editorial: A new bench for Panama hearings
This is the second time that lead counsel representing parties in the case have been changed. On Nov 18, Hamid Khan, representing the PTI, had dissociated himself from the case after facing criticism over the manner in which he handled the case. He was replaced by Advocate Naeem Bokhari.
Legal experts believe that the change of the entire legal team reflects nervousness in the ruling family because they apparently were not satisfied with the earlier team. The development is being viewed as a ploy to prolong the proceedings.
It is expected that the newly engaged counsel may seek more time to get themselves familiarised with the bulk of documents submitted to the court.
The development evoked disapproval from the PTI side, with its vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi demanding expeditious decision on the controversy through day-to-day hearings. He alleged that the change of the legal team by the Sharif family was a pretext to gain more time, although they had sufficient time after the case was adjourned on Dec 9.
Mr Qureshi said the ruling party had employed the same tactics to prolong the outcome of meetings of the parliamentary committee on ToR (terms of reference) for seven months.
Meanwhile, Akram Sheikh issued a statement saying he would not represent Maryam, Hussain and Hassan Nawaz in the case. He wished ‘best of luck’ to the counsel defending the Sharif family and said he would be looking forward to a positive outcome of the pending litigation.
Addressing a press conference on Tuesday, PTI chief Imran Khan and secretary general Jahangir Khan Tareen said their party had submitted additional documents to the Supreme Court to establish that Maryam Safdar, and not her brother Hussain Nawaz as claimed by them earlier, was the beneficial owner of Minerva Financial Services Limited which held Nescoll Limited and Nielson Enterprises Limited — the owner of the four London flats.
Thus the Feb 3, 2006, document showing that Maryam was only a trustee and not beneficial owner was a forged one, as well as that of the Qatari prince’s letter, they claimed.
The documents include a June 19, 2012, communication of Sandra N de Cornejo, head of compliance of Mosack Fonseca, to Michael Rossiter, trust officer, Minerva Trust and Corporate Services Limited, seeking information about the name and contact details, physical address and passport copy of the ultimate beneficial owner of Minerva Officer Ltd, Minerva Trust Company Ltd, etc.
Michael Rossiter replied to Sandra on June 21 that the Minerva Trust Company Ltd was the company secretary of both Nielson and Nescoll which owned a UK property each for use by the family of beneficial owners of the companies.
On June 22, Michael Rossiter again sent a letter acknowledging that Nielson and Nescoll were owned by the same beneficial owner – Maryam Safdar. These companies owned the London flats which were not rented but occupied by the owner and her family.
In the personal information form of Minerva Services Ltd, Maryam was again shown as beneficial owner which also suggested the family’s wealth and business spreading over 60 years as the source of wealth.
The documents also include the photocopy of Maryam to show the beneficial owner of the companies, in addition to a Dec 3, 2005, letter of Nada F. Hawarna, assistant general manager of Samba Financial Group’s Tahlia branch, Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), certifying that Maryam had been one of their valued customers since 2002.
They also contain screenshots of official webpage of the ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) showing that Maryam and her brothers did not respond to repeated requests from the ICIJ for comments prior to publication of the Panama Papers in relation to the Sharif family.
In another document, Mosack Fonseca also informed Minerva Services Ltd that its due diligence had revealed that Maryam was listed as PEP (political exposed person) and that high-risk mitigation process was applied to her.
Earlier, the PTI had submitted a June 12, 2012, letter of the Financial Investigation Agency (FIA), British Virgin Islands, to Money Laundering Reporting Officer J. Nizbeth Maduro of Mossack Fonseca, raising questions about Nescoll and Neilson.
In response, Ms Nizbeth had on June 22 sent two replies to FIA Director Errol George, stating that Maryam Safdar was the beneficial owner of the two companies and that the director of the two companies was Minerva Officer Limited.
“The new documents have left no doubt that the prime minister misstated before parliament as well as before the Supreme Court about the ownership of the London flats,” asserted Shah Mehmood Qureshi.