The much-awaited Supreme Court decision on Panama Gate was announced yesterday. In a 3-2 split decision, the verdict called for forming a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe into the Prime Minister’s London properties. The split in the verdict clearly reflects the dilemma for the judges between legal restraints and personal sense of morality. Honorable Justices Asif Saeed Khosa and Gulzar Ahmed dissented with a note calling for the disqualification of the Prime Minister from holding public offices. Justice Khosa went on to compare the Sharif family with the mafia, and took a stern position on the Prime Minister’s two speeches in the National Assembly where he did not mention his Mecca and Dubai factories.
The Prime Minister and his team, however, should be very happy with the overall decision to form the JIT. This is exactly what the PML-N was hoping from the decision, a probe into the Prime Minister’s assets instead of a verdict based on the article 62 and 63. Moreover, the SC called for the formation of JIT as a means to appease public in general given the sensitivity of the matter. In addition, we are all aware that white-collar financial crimes are awfully difficult to investigate as our institutions lack the capacity to collect evidence and prosecute for such crimes. The laws that govern these crimes are also weak. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) frequently opts for plea bargains even for obvious corruption cases for this very reason, and agencies like the ISI or MI are clearly not equipped to deal with such matters owing to their mandate focusing on terrorism and espionage. The State Bank of Pakistan, SECP, and FIA, the other three institutions included in the JIT, come under direct or indirect purview of the government and can be influenced by the ruling party.
While this verdict is not a clean chit for the Prime Minister, it is as close to it as it gets to exonerating the Prime Minister. Imran Khan has clearly lost this round and should prepare for the general elections to settle scores. *