SC Asks Govt To Prove Illegal London Properties Were Funded By Justice Isa
Supreme Court (SC) has asked the federal government to prove its claim that the properties owned by Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s family in London are funded via illegal means. Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah issued the orders during a hearing of the case pertaining to Supreme Judicial Council (SJC)’s reference against Justice Isa in the SC.
As part of the ten-member bench hearing the case, Justice Shah demanded the government’s counsel Dr Farogh Naseem to provide evidence that Justice Isa’s London properties were benami and funded by him.
During the proceedings, Dr Farogh Naseem also submitted fresh evidence against Justice Isa to the bench. The original reference against Justice Isa had alleged that he had acquired properties in his wife’s name in London between 2011 and 2015 but he had not disclosed these in his wealth statement.
Who said what: A larger bench of ten judges heard the case of Tuesday, presided by Justice Umer Ata Bandial. The submission of fresh evidence by Dr Naseem was objected to by Justice Isa’s counsel Muneer A Malik, on the grounds that the government’s counsel had not satisfactorily answered how evidence was being collected against the petitioner judge.
The bench also expressed its reservations on the filing of the complaint before the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) instead of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) as per the standard procedures.
Dr Farogh Naseem asserted that Justice Isa had not provided the money trail for his family’s properties in London, while he admitted that his family owned them. The counsel questioned the method by which the money had been sent abroad, and added that a judge should be completely blameless as per judges’ code of conduct.
Justice Shah responded to the counsel, asking him to prove that the properties were indeed benami and that they had been funded by Justice Isa. He wondered if Justice Isa would be responsible if his son had purchased the property, and said the counsel needed to establish that Justice Isa’s wife and children were dependent on him.
Dr Naseem responded by saying that the burden of proof of the properties’ benami status was not on the government, and that it was enough that the tax records showed the SC judge’s wife had no income to purchase the properties in London.
Justice Umer Ata Bandial then commented that Justice Isa had said his wife was a taxpayer. Thus, she should be asked about the source of the funds used to purchase the properties.
Meanwhile, Justice Muneeb Akhtar observed that the original reference against Justice Isa held the allegation that he had violated income tax laws by not disclosing his family’s properties in his wealth statement. The latest allegations about those properties being funded through illegal means, he pointed out, were an addition to the original reference.
However, Dr Naseem insisted that once a reference had been filed by the Supreme Judicial Council in the Supreme Court against a sitting judge, then it went outside the jurisdiction of the apex court to question it, as per Article 211 of the Constitution. It was not for the court to question the reference after a show-cause notice had been sent to the judge in question. He recalled that the SC had intervened in former chief justice Iftikhar Ahmad Chaudhry’s case because no show-cause notice had been sent to him at that time, but this time it was different.
Justice Muneeb Akhtar responded by saying that if the reference had illegal foundations then it could be declared as being simply a piece of paper, as had been precedented by the British Supreme Court in a case in the United Kingdom. Justice Faisal Arab added that if a case was based on mala fide intentions then the Supreme Court had the authority to intervene in it at any stage, including after the SJC had finished its inquiry.
Thereafter, the hearing was adjourned until Wednesday.
Backstory: Last year in May, a presidential reference was filed against Justice Qazi Faez Isa in the SJC, for not disclosing the properties owned by his family in London in his wealth statement. The SJC moved swiftly to initiate proceedings against him and sent a show-cause notice to the Supreme Court judge.
This was met with resistance from the legal community and civil rights groups, who suspected mala fide intentions to be behind the presidential reference.
Subsequently, Justice Isa filed a petition under Article 184 (3) in the SC, challenging the legitimacy of the reference against him. He also wrote a letter to President Arif Alvi expressing strong resentment over the reference.