Absolutely undeterred and unaffected by PML-N’s criticism, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), constituted by a Supreme Court bench in Panama case, is actively conducting its investigation proceedings to help the apex court conclusively determine the underlying factual questions involved in this ‘historic’ case. So far, the Panama JIT has summoned and thoroughly interrogated PM Nawaz Sharif and other prominent members of the ruling Sharif family. Now this JIT has been instructed by the SC bench to submit its final report on July 10. Noticeably, political temperature in Pakistan is constantly rising as the Panama case, which essentially involves the political future of country’s two major political parties- PML-N and PTI, is rapidly approaching its conclusion.

Currently, there is considerable mistrust between the interrogators and interrogated in this case. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, after ‘making history’ by appearing before the JIT last month, readily declared the Panama case proceedings mere a ‘puppet show’. He also warned that the constitution, democracy and national security would be jeopardised if the propaganda factories were not closed. Similarly, most of the attendees of these investigation proceedings have also constantly been making complaints about the harsh, improper and unprofessional behaviour of the JIT members.

The so-called WhatsApp and photo leak scandals have also undermined the credibility and impartiality of the Panama JIT by a bit. On the other hand, JIT members also look dissatisfied with the unaccommodating attitude of the government as well as unwary behaviour of a section of the media. They have already formally disclosed to the SC bench an alleged tampering of the crucial record kept by various government agencies, namely the SECP. Similarly, equating the incumbent government with the ‘Sicilian Mafia’, the SC bench strongly reacted to the intimidating speech made by a PML-N activist Nehal Hashmi in Karachi.

In fact, the apex court has yet not handled such a complex case while exercising its original jurisdiction under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution. So, instead of promptly solving the so-called Panama riddle, this case has given rise to a number of legal complexities and controversies in the country. There have been raised many questions about the propriety and constitutionality of this high-profile case. The apex court did not thoroughly discuss and decide the crucial question of maintainability of this case. Moreover, in the absence of specific legal procedure evolved by the 5-member bench, the petitioners freely and exclusively shaped the contours of this case. So this case readily became a free-for-all trial.

There is also a perception that the SC bench has compromised the constitutional provisions regarding the fair trial and due process. Similarly, it is also quite incomprehensible as to why the SC bench delivered such a lengthy judgment without conclusively determining this case. Why did it not consider it appropriate to form a JIT during the pendency of this case? And how can a civil petition filed in the highest appellate court give rise to a full-fledged criminal investigation?

During the Panama case proceedings, the 5-member SC bench shifted the entire focus of this case away from the Panama Papers revelations relating to the offshore accounts and properties owned by PM Nawaz Sharif’s children. This bench allowed the petitioners to raise all sorts of allegations of corruption and malpractices against the ruling Sharif family. So this case covered the corruption allegations against the three generations of Sharif family, including their past businesses in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Similarly, the Panama JIT also looks more interested in probing the domestic scams against the Sharif family rather than probing the Panama Papers revelations. Therefore, this case is no longer a ‘Panamgate case’. Now it would be more appropriate to call it a Sharif family accountability case.

The primary purpose of an investigation is to collect evidence to support a trial. So the Panama JIT is also supposed to collect evidence vis-à-vis multiple matters identified and instructed in the split judgment delivered by the 5-member bench. These matters range from the offshore accounts and assets, allegedly owned by the Sharif family, to their local businesses and intra-family financial transactions. However, observably, The JIT has conveniently opted to take up the easy-to-prove domestic scams instead of extending the scope of its investigation to the complex financial matters involving the foreign jurisdiction.

The ‘Qatari letter’ has been a crucial question during the hearing by the 5-member bench. However, the JIT is ignoring this ‘substantial piece of evidence’, upon which the entire defence of the respondents’ rests. It has yet not seriously tried to approach the Qatari prince to verify the contents of this letter. At present, the JIT is focused on the Hudaibiya Mills scam, a scam relating to alleged money laundering by the Sharif family in 1990’s. In fact, this case has long been abandoned by the NAB, and subsequently quashed by the Lahore High Court in 2014. The Panama JIT is repeatedly summoning and thoroughly interrogating persons like PM Nawaz Sharif and his children, CM Punjab Shehbaz Sharif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Tariq Shafi and Senator Rehman Malik. In fact, this JIT has spent a lot of time to interrogate individuals instead of collecting evidence against the respondents. So we can aptly term it a Joint ‘Interrogation’ Team rather than a Joint Investigation Team.

Generally, the report as well as opinion of an investigator are neither conclusive nor legally binding in a court of law. However, keeping in view the past trajectory of this case, we can hardly predict whether or not the SC bench will provide the respondents an opportunity to explain and clarify their position after the submission of JIT report. Likewise, at the moment, it is also not clear whether the original 5-member bench or the current 3-member bench of the apex court would finally decide this case once the JIT submit its final report.

In fact, besides a number of ambiguities and anomalies attached with it, Panama case has been shrouded with a sort of invisible mystery ever since this case was formally taken up by the apex court in November last year. One wonders why did the PML- N government willingly and unconditionally expose itself to an extensive judicial scrutiny as, previously, it could not finalise the consensus TOR’s in a Parliamentary Committee, constituted for this specific purpose, for a long time. Why did the legal team of respondents not opt for a legal remedy of challenging the jurisdiction of the apex court to try this complex case despite not having any plausible explanation for the offshore assets and accounts possessed by their clients?

There has also been an impression that the SC bench and the JIT members are extremely strict and rather harsh towards the respondents. So the respondents have hardly been the ‘favourite children of the court’. It is quite inexplicable why the complementary components of the status quo have instantly become so vindictive towards the incumbent PML-N government which is essentially leading this very status quo. Certainly, these mysteries and anomalies will persist until this case is finally decided by the apex court.

It is usually said that justice should not only be done, but also seen to be done. Panama case is very likely to have a lasting impact on country’s politics. So in this crucial case, justice should manifestly be seen to be done. At this stage, lynching Nawaz Sharif would neither be beneficial for the politics nor for the body politic. PM Nawaz Sharif should certainly be granted a fair opportunity to defend himself. Besides being the Prime Minister, he is a citizen of Pakistan too. Therefore, he can by no means be deprived of his basic citizenship rights, including the right of fair trial, guaranteed by the Constitution.

The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.