Over the past month, what the Panama Leaks have exposed, above all, is that we are a country of sensationalism. We are a people who thrive on a culture of ‘mega-scams’, imminent dharnas, boorish talk shows, and elaborate conspiracy theories. Ignoring the spirit of our laws, as well as the Constitution, we love painting fellow members of our society with a broad and unforgiving brush, based on speculative news items. It is almost as though we seek the thrill of drama that accompanies each breaking-news ticker, more than a desire to unveil the truth behind such momentary spikes of media fervour.

Taking a moment away from the sensationalism that surrounds Panama Leaks, it is necessary to step back and view the allegations through the prism of our laws. In particular, even as we pursue the noble ends of political accountability through a probe into the controversy, it is essential to distinguish between the different sets of personalities whose name appears in the Panama Leaks, along with their corresponding legal obligations of disclosure and declaration.

The list of Pakistani citizens, whose name appears in the Panama Leaks, can be divided into three distinct categories: 1) political leaders who hold a public office; 2) non-political public office holders; and 3) private citizens of Pakistan. And the bar of disclosure, as well as command of the law, differs for each of these.

The simplest and most straightforward concern is that of a private citizens whose name appears in the Panama Leaks. To this end, it is important to point out that having equity stake in an offshore company does not, per se, violate any provision of our laws. Specifically, Article 9 (Right to Life) and Article 18 (Right to Trade/Business), guarantees every Pakistani the freedom to carry out a lawful business for profit, and enjoy its fruits, within the contours prescribed by law. As an extension, every citizen of Pakistan can invest in, or own, an offshore company in Panama, so long as the same is done through lawfully generated income, which has been duly taxed (as applicable) by the relevant governmental authorities, and has been remitted through the proper banking channels, in accordance with law.

On the other end of the legal liability spectrum is the concerning political public office holders (specifically the Prime Minister and his family), and their ownership of offshore companies in Panama. To begin with, there can be little doubt about the fact that the glaring inconsistencies, amidst statements issued by the Prime Minister’s family members, justify a deeper probe into the financial matters of the first family. But even away from the factual inconsistencies, the Prime Minister, who pays no more than a few thousand rupees in taxes, while living in perhaps the largest mansion of Asia, has much to answer for in terms of the law as well as political responsibility: Was the money, through which offshore Panama companies are owned, generated through lawful means, during the years that the Prime Minister paid virtually no tax to our governmental authorities? Did the Prime Minister truthfully fulfill the disclosure requirements, for himself and his family members, under the mandate of our tax and electoral laws? Did he violate the Constitutional oath of his office, which requires him, inter alia, to “always” act in the interest of “well-being and prosperity of Pakistan”, when he allowed his family wealth to reside outside of Pakistan’s taxable jurisdiction? And in the process, has he been “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and ameen” in terms of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution?

Even away from strict legal parameters, did the Prime Minister being a representative of the people, owe a ‘moral’ responsibility to fully disclose his family’s assets to the constituents? And can he really advocate foreign and domestic businessmen to invest in Pakistan, and be subject to the domestic tax laws, when his own family belies this idea?

Somewhere on this spectrum between a private citizen and the Prime Minister, is the legal responsibility that needs to be discharged by (non-political) public office holders, who are named in the Panama Leaks. To this end, a Judge of the honourable High Court (e.g. Justice Farrukh Irfan Khan) is only responsible for demonstrating that his mention in Panama Leaks does not fall fowl of the relevant tax laws, his Constitutional oath, or the Judicial Code of Conduct.

In the instant case, prior to becoming a Judge of the honourable Lahore High Court, Justice Irfan (then a successful and celebrated lawyer) had the Constitutional right to legally invest his lawfully earned income in an offshore entity in Panama. He need only demonstrate that the income was lawfully generated, subjected to the relevant tax regime, and then legally invested abroad.

While the honourable Judge would have to present himself before the commissioned inquiry, in order to vindicate his legal position, it is important to point out that, despite being a Constitutional office holder, he is not a public representative, and thus is neither subject to the disclosure requirements of electoral laws, nor to the qualifications/disqualifications contained in Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. Furthermore, his Constitutional oath as a Judge contains no bar, strict senso, in terms of commercial endeavours from the yester-life of a lawyer, and is restricted to ensuring that he discharges his judicial duties in accordance with law, and “preserve[s], protect[s], and defend[s]”the Constitution “without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”.

In fact, the honourable Judge’s past ownership of an offshore Panama company, from which (per news reports) he resigned prior to taking of the judicial oath, violates no express provision of the Code of Conduct for Judges, issued by the Supreme Judicial Council. Much like the Constitutional oath, the Code of Conduct for Judges also focuses (almost entirely) on ensuring that a Judge performs his official duties in an impartial manner, without fear or favour, in accordance with the Constitution and the law. In this regard, Article IV of the Code requires a Judge to decline from deciding matters concerning “his own interests”, or that of his relatives, and Article VI of the Code requires the Judge to avoid incurring obligations that may affect “the performance of his functions”. And even in case of any suspected breach of these provisions, the same must amount to “misconduct” (which definition includes mala fide intent), in terms of Article 209 of the Constitution, for there to be legal recourse to the Constitutionally protected tenure of the honourable Judge.

However, in the spirit of (malicious) sensationalism, a frivolous petition has been filed before the honourable Lahore High Court, seeking dismissal of Justice Irfan from his Constitutional post, in absolute ignorance of the mandate of our laws. Per the media reports, the same learned advocate has also filed a reference before the Supreme Judicial Council against the honourable Judge’s past involvement in offshore companies. And, in the aftermath, a group of partisan members of the bar, for their own ulterior motives, seem to have launched a campaign against this honourable Judge. Such agendas, by members of the bar, betray the very spirit of our Constitution, which the black-coat community is sworn to uphold. It also illegally undermines the independence and integrity of the honourable Judges, and by extension the project of justice.

The probe into Panama Leaks, along with ancillary matters, must be an endeavour to ascertain the truth. It must demonstrate a national resolve to relentlessly follow the due process in determining possible violations of the law. It must be an exercise in transparency that brings our nation together, under the banner of our Constitution. It cannot be a witch-hunt. It cannot be an instrument to smear or malign individuals.