In a turn of events that is barely believable, the Sharif family has pulled a rabbit of out of its hat, in order to vindicate its legal stance for owning the infamous properties in London. The ruling family, this week submitted an affidavit before the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan, authored by one Mr. Hamd bin Jasim, member of Qatar’s royal family, claiming that the properties in London were transferred in the name of the Sharif family (in particular Mr. Hussain Nawaz) as part of a business settlement, arising out of concerns that date back to the 1970s.

Surprisingly, this is the first mention of such a business settlement that has been disclosed by the Sharif family…ever. For the purposes of clarification, over the past 30 years of electoral politics, and specifically the past many months of Panama Leaks scandal, never before has such an arrangement ever been eluded to or mentioned, at any forum, by members of the Sharif family.

From a purely legal perspective, it is no crime or violation of the law, that the Sharif family did not disclose their business arrangements with the Al-Thani family of Qatar. In fact, it could be argued that there was no legal obligation to disclose such an arrangement, up until now, when the honourable Supreme Court formally sought the explanation.

Keeping aside the minutia, the documentary argument presented by the Sharif family, in the ongoing Panama Leaks case, adopts the following trajectory: 1) that the Prime Minister is not personally mentioned in the Panama Leaks, only his children are; 2) after nationalization of their family businesses in the 1970s, Mian Muhammad Sharif (late father of the Prime Minister) set up the Gulf Steel Mill in UAE, with the help of loans procured through UAE Banks; 3) overtime the loan was paid off and Mian Muhammad Sharif cashed out his interest in the Gulf Steel Mill, investing 12 million AED into the real estate business of Al-Thani family of Qatar; 4) subsequently, during the 2000s, Mian Muhammad Sharif named Mr. Hussain Nawaz as the sole inheritor of the said business interests; 5) the Al-Thani family owned the concerned properties in London through offshore companies, and allowed members of the Sharif family to occupy and use the same, subject to payment of ground rent and service charges; 6) Later, in 2006, Mr. Hussain Nawaz and the Al-Thani family settled their accounts, as a result of which shares of the offshore Companies (that own the properties in London) were transferred in the name of Mr. Hussain Nawaz; 7) Resultantly, the London properties came under the ownership of the Sharif family without any cash transaction or money trail; 8) Since Mr. Hussain Nawaz is a UK resident there is no obligation on him to file his tax returns in Pakistan; And 9) Since Mr. Hussain Nawaz is not a dependent of the Prime Minister, there was no obligation on the Prime Minister to declare the said assets in his tax returns or electoral filings.

For whatever its worth, credit must be given where it’s due: there is every possibility that this chain of events, backed by the affidavit of Mr. Al-Thani, carries the day in court, and results in a judicial declaration that the Sharif family owns the properties in London, worth millions of dollars, without there being any corresponding money trail to substantiate the same.

The one problem that the Sharif family lawyers might find difficult to explain, before the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan, is the role of Miss Maryam Nawaz in this entire narrative. Miss Maryam Nawaz is allegedly nominated as the ‘beneficial owner’, and has a corresponding obligation to disclose the same in her tax filings in Pakistan. Furthermore, importantly, it has been alleged (according to public media reports) that Mrs. Maryam Nawaz was a declared dependent of the Prime Minister up until the 2011 tax returns. If so, the Prime Minister was under a legal obligation to disclose international assets belonging to Mrs. Maryam Nawaz; and a failure to do the same could amount to his disqualification under the applicable law.

The counter narrative, from PML-N, claims that Mrs. Maryam Nawaz was only a ‘trustee’ and not a beneficial owner of the properties in London. And that, being a trustee, there was no legal obligation to disclose these assets on her tax filings or that of the Prime Minister.

Keeping aside moral arguments and political alliances, the Sharif family has a reasonable defence at hand. And, as a result, the PTI lawyers need to come up with a deliberate strategy to pierce the PML-N defence. At the moment, at least, PTI’s legal team is having trouble finding its own car keys. Not just that, PTI, unfortunately, has a history of making tall claims on the streets and dharnas, none of which have converted into judicial verdicts in favour of PTI. The entire narrative concerning ‘35 punctures’, four constituencies and systematic electoral rigging were repeated at nausea, for many months, but none of them could be successfully proven at Courts of Law. And, once again, PTI’s legal team seems to be having trouble convincing the Supreme Court of the claims that Imran Khan vociferously made at every public rally in the past several months.

PTI’s leadership and supporters must keep in mind two important ideas; 1) If PML-N is able to prove the veracity of Al-Thani’s affidavit, and PTI fails to prove their claims, in accordance with law, they will have little ground tomorrow to say that we have a PML-N-centric judiciary; 2) If they are unable to break the defence presented by PML-N, as a result of which the Sharif family gets a clean chit, it would become impossible to point fingers at Sharif family’s financial dealings over the past 30 years.

This is a watershed moment for our democratic accountability process. The honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan, as well as the nation is faced with two diabolically opposite contentions. First, a growing national consensus that PML-N’s leadership has been involved in financial misdealing, and there only defence is a single-page affidavit from a Qatari Prince. Second, that despite this ludicrous fact, PTI’s legal team is unable to convince the honourable Supreme Court, within the four corners of law, that any financial misdoing has taken place. And the honourable Supreme Court cannot step outside the gates of law, in order to legally convict the Prime Minister on moral grounds.

Post-script: Away from all the legal intricacies of the Panama Leaks case, there is no walking away from the fact that Mr. Nawaz Sharif and his family have to discharge a larger moral obligation to the people of Pakistan. Even if the law grants a clean chit to the Sharif family, the people of Pakistan have a right to ask for political and moral accountability from our rulers. Having been in ‘ruler-ship’ positions for twenty-two out of the last thirty years, there is virtually no argument, whatsoever, that can justify millions of dollars of personal wealth stacked in offshore companies and foreign assets, while a significant fraction of the hapless people in Pakistan, continue to sleep, bare-footed, on the footpath, a stone’s throw away from Jati Umra. There is no argument that can vindicate why the personal wealth of Prime Minister’s family sits beyond the reach of Pakistan’s tax net, while the nation borrows money to fulfill its domestic needs.

If, one day, we will all be present before that final Court of Justice, at the feet of the eternal throne of power, before He who is as just as HE is merciful, a letter from some Qatari prince, presented by a bearded lawyer will find no favour, nor carry the day. And the millions who live and die amidst the fangs of hunger, throughout the dusty fields of Pakistan, will have their pound of flesh, without recourse to either Article 62 or 63 of the Constitution or any other fleeting instrument of worldly legal defence. And, for better or worse, each of us who were too timid to raise our voice, even if just as a symbol of impotent protest, will find ourselves in the docket.