Pointing out “significant disparity amongst the known and declared sources of income and the accumulated wealth by the respondents”, the Panama JIT has formally submitted its exhaustive 256-page final report to the 3-member SC special implementation bench in the Panama case. On Monday, the JIT members appeared before this SC bench, carrying two large size cardboard boxes, containing the ‘evidence’ regarding the alleged corruption and malpractices by the ruling Sharif family. However, the PML-N instantly rejected this report, calling it ‘trash’ and an ‘Imran Nama’. It has also hinted at challenging this report in the apex court. On the other hand, the opposition political parties, particularly PTI, have started mounting pressure on Premier Nawaz Sharif to make him step down.

The political tension between PML-N and PTI is visibly escalating as the Panama case is steadily approaching its conclusion. After exercising ‘restraint’ for a long time over the Panama case, the PML-N has finally decided to aggressively defend its party head NS both inside and outside the apex court. Probably as part of their new political strategy, PML-N stalwarts have extended the scope of their criticism beyond the PTI and its chairman to include the Panama JIT and its constitutor – the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Now they have started openly disputing the credibility and impartiality of the Judges of the SC bench, individually and collectively, through holding public rallies and press conferences.

Noticeably, the tide has turned against the troubled PML-N and its beleaguered leader as far as the Panama case is concerned. The Panama JIT has delivered a detailed report, along with a plethora of evidence, against the Premier and his children to the SC bench. Making things worse, an FIA team, constituted by the SC, has also submitted its report, materially confirming the allegations levelled by the JIT regarding the deliberate tampering in the record kept by the SECP. This report maintains that SECP Chairman Zafar Hijazi, along with other officials, dishonestly tampered the record relating to the Chaudhry Sugar Mills owned by the ruling Sharif family. Now, based on an SC order, the FIA has also registered a criminal case against the SECP Chairman.

The politically-fatal Panama case has landed PM Nawaz Sharif in severe trouble. He has constantly been experiencing a sort of roller coaster ride since the apex court took up this case in November last year. Now it is by no means difficult to predict the conclusion of this case. In fact, the current tone and tenor of the judges of the SC bench really says it all. The trajectory of this crucial case essentially indicates that this case is now rapidly drifting towards PM’s disqualification. Therefore, in view of the current legal perspective of the Panama case, the disqualification of PM Nawaz Sharif appears only to be a matter of time.

On Saturday, as many as four key PML-N Federal Ministers held a joint press conference in Islamabad to express solidarity with PM Nawaz Sharif. They thoroughly criticised some state institutions for ‘hatching a conspiracy’ against the democratically-elected PML-N government. They also targeted the SC Judges for their dual standards towards the politicos. At the same time, they also made a number of demands after expressing their dissatisfaction and reservations over the forthcoming JIT report.

It is not the first time PML-N has raised objections against the JIT members. In fact, the respondents in Panama case have frequently been expressing their concerns regarding the constitution of Panama JIT. In this respect, through a petition filed to the SC bench, an important member of the Sharif family also formally objected to two JIT members, Amir Aziz and Bilal Rasool, questioning their impartiality. However, the SC bench rejected these objections outright. Later, the so-called WhatsApp controversy significantly reinforced the PML-N apprehensions about the impartiality of JIT members. Generally, a trial court considers the genuine concerns of the interrogated vis-a-vis the impartiality and integrity of the investigators. So a trial judge, or even a superior officer, may transfer investigation to another investigator to ensure justice and fair play.

Apparently, the question of whether the ‘Qatari letter’ is a “myth or reality” has also not adequately been answered by the JIT report. During the proceedings before the 5-member SC bench, this letter remained a substantial question, or rather a mystery, on which the respondents primary relied while explaining the money trail for their off-shore assets. Therefore, in order to end the controversies attached to it, this issue must have seriously been taken up by the Panama JIT. If the Qatari Prince Hamad Bin Jassim had refused to appear before the JIT members, they could have personally approached the Qatari Prince to record his statement. Certainly, in the past, the members of various inquiry commissions, constituted by the apex court, had recorded similar statements of the individuals abroad.

At this stage, the respondents cannot be justifiably blamed for producing the Qatari Prince before the JIT members for interrogation. In fact, the respondent or an accused person is primarily responsible for producing their witnesses before the court for cross examination and recording their statements. However, during the investigation proceedings, the interrogators are only supposed to ensure the attendance of the witnesses to get their statements recorded.

It is rather a judicious decision made by the SC bench to instantly make the JIT report public. Now it is only the SC bench which can finally accept or otherwise reject this report after consideration. Indeed the respondents should be provided a fair opportunity to raise their objections against this report. In case the SC bench finds some substance in such objections, it can make some appropriate orders vis-à-vis the JIT report, including an order for a fresh investigation after issuing some guidelines, by constituting another JIT to the satisfaction of the respondents.

At the moment, PML-N has no reason to be optimistic about the final decision in Panama case. Two judges of the original 5-member SC bench in Panama case have already passed judgement against PM Nawaz Sharif by disqualifying him on the basis of available material in this case. The remaining three Judges in this bench ordered a ‘further probe’ while believing there was substance in the allegations levelled against the Sharif family regarding corruption and malpractices. Probably as a mandatory legal formality, they required some inquisitorial or investigative proceedings to reach a legal conclusion. By doing so, they apparently tried to overcome multiple legal complexities and controversies to conclusively decide this case while exercising jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. A judgement passed against NS even by a single judge in the 3-member SC bench would be really fatal to him as two Judges in the original 5-member bench have already done so.

In fact, the Panama JIT was not necessarily required to thoroughly investigate all the 13 questions identified and mandated by the SC bench. This bench has already made it clear that it would decide this case on the basis of sufficient incriminating material, no matter it does not cover all the questions referred to the JIT. The SC bench is very likely to find the required ‘material’ from the plethora of evidence, collected and presented by the Panama JIT, to finally decide the fate of Nawaz Sharif. So now this SC bench would not take much time to conclude this case.

The honourable judges of the apex court rightly claimed that the Panama case would be remembered for a long time. This case will certainly set another significant judicial precedent, whereby an individual could seek an extensive judicial scrutiny against the public office holders, especially the politicians and parliamentarians, while filing a petition to the apex court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. This case is also likely to trigger a sort of domino effect in the future. However, in the name of ‘rule of law’, the notorious doctrine of necessity should not be revived in Pakistan in any way. Indeed this is a testing time for the superior judiciary in the country.