Qatari letter changes PM’s stance on London properties: SC

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was not pleased on Tuesday to hear yet another explanation for how the Sharif family paid for its London properties, observing that both sides were doing their best to ensure that the court would eventually have to form a commission to decide the Panamagate case.

“This document has completely changed the public stand of the prime minister,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed after the Sharif children’s newly-engaged counsel, Mohammad Akram Sheikh, presented before the court an attested letter from a former Qatari prime minister.

“This is all hearsay,” said Justice Khosa, who is part of the five-judge larger bench, headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, which has taken up the Panamagate case.

Like a rabbit out of a hat, Mr Sheikh had pulled out a document dated Nov 5, 2016 — marked private, confidential and not to be disclosed to any party, except for the benefit of the courts of Pakistan — on the letterhead of Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani, who ruled Qatar from 2007 to 2013.

But the court was not amused. Justice Khosa observed the document originated only a few days ago and was not 30 years old, asking the counsel whether the gentleman who signed the letter would appear for cross-examination if the court placed the document on the record. Although he didn’t respond before the court, Mr Sheikh told reporters after the hearing that the former Qatari premier would appear before the court, if necessary.

The letter states that Hamad’s father — Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani — had “longstanding business relations with Mian Mohammad Sharif” — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s father — “which were coordinated through my eldest brother”. In the year 1980, “Mian Sharif expressed his desire to invest a certain amount of money in real estate business of Al Thani family in Qatar,” the document said.

“I understood at that time, that an aggregate sum of around Dirhams 12 million was contributed by Mian Sharif, originating from the sale of business in Dubai,” the document said, adding that four flats: 16, 16A, 17 and 17A Avenfield House, Park Lane, London, were registered under the ownership of two offshore companies, while their bearer share certificates were kept in Qatar. “These were purchased from the proceeds of the real estate business,” the document claimed.

It went on to explain that “on account of [the] relationship between the families, Mian Sharif and his family used the properties whilst bearing all expenses relating to the properties, including the ground rent and service charges”.

“I can recall that during his life time, Mian Sharif wished that the beneficiary of his investment and returns in the real estate business [should be] his grandson Hussain Nawaz Sharif,” it explained, adding that in the year 2006, the accounts in relation to this investment were settled between Hussain and the Al Thani family, who then delivered the bearer shares of the companies to his representative.

But Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali was not swayed and observed that the court would examine the evidentiary value of the document later.

“Do you understand the implication of the document?” Justice Khosa asked, pointing at Mr Sheikh. He observed that all this document explained that Hamad bin Jassim did not have to account for anything, and that his father was extremely kind and generous to give away money to Mian Sharif.

“You do not have any explanation for the properties except for this?” Justice Khosa inquired again.

He observed that while Nawaz Sharif was everybody’s prime minister, the stance adopted before the court was different from what he said on the floor of the National Assembly on May 16, 2016, where PM Sharif had stated that the flats were purchased using proceeds from the sale of steel mills in Jeddah.

Transaction history

In the 86-page supplementary statement submitted to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Maryam, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz claimed that no amount was ever transferred or remitted from Pakistan in order to set up, finance or run steel mills in the UAE.

The document emphasised that Mariam Nawaz was a trustee for the benefit of Hussain Nawaz in pursuance of a 2006 trust deed executed between the two. Therefore, from 2006 onwards, the London properties were the property of Hussain Nawaz.

The document also traced the history of how Mian Sharif came to the UAE and set up the Gulf Steel Mills in 1974. Mian Sharif had carried on his business through his nephew Mohammad Tariq Shafi, while another person, Mohammad Hussain, was a partner in the mills.

When Muhammad Hussain passed away, his heirs transferred their rights and liabilities to Tariq Shafi, who was holding the shares on behalf of Mian Sharif.

In 1978, Mian Sharif decided to sell 75pc of his shares in the mills to Abdallah Kayed Ahli to settle outstanding liabilities with a Dubai-based bank, where after the mills came to be known as the Ahli Steel Mills.

In 1980, Mian Sharif decided to disengage himself from the steel business in Dubai and sold his remaining 25pc shares in the company for AED 12 million. This amount was entrusted to the Al Thani family, to invest in their real estate business.

Staff of Pak-Turk schools told to leave Pakistan by 20th

ISLAMABAD: Ahead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Pakistan, the interior ministry has asked the Turkish staff of Pak-Turk schools and colleges to leave the country by Nov 20.

The management of the educational network on Tuesday expressed concern over the “abrupt move” and assured the students and parents involved that it stood firmly against any proposal for “ingress of some other organisation into the teachers and staff of the schools”.

A senior official of the interior ministry said the visas of the educational chain’s staff had been cancelled and that letters had been sent to them on Sunday, informing them that they had only one week to leave the country.

The decision was in line with the advice of the foreign affairs ministry.

The number of teachers and other Turkish staff in the chain’s 28 schools and colleges stood at 108 and the total number of their family members at about 400, the official said.

In August, Pakistan had promised Turkey’s visiting Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu that it would look into affairs of the chain Ankara wanted to be closed for its alleged links with US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

During his visit, Mr Çavusoglu had said: “It is not a secret that Gulen’s organisation has institutions… in Pakistan and in many other countries. I am sure the necessary measures will be taken. We have to be very careful with such organisations and their causing risk and threat for the security and stability of every country [where] they have presence.”

The network of Pak-Turk schools and colleges was launched in 1995 under an international NGO registered with the Turkish government. “Initially, funding was made from Turkey to establish modern campuses in Pakistan. But for the last 15 years or so the chain has been generating its own funds here, offering free education and boarding facilities to 35 per cent of the students, besides awarding foreign scholarships to them,” the official said.

The chain’s 28 schools and colleges are functioning in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Multan, Karachi, Hyderabad, Khairpur, Jamshoro and Quetta. Some 11,000 students, of pre-school to ‘A’ Level ages, are studying there.

In the second week of August, the management of the chain removed the Turkish principals of their 28 schools and colleges and also dissolved the board of directors which had representation from Turkish nationals.

The drastic move was seen as an attempt to thwart the likely handing over of the chain to any organisation by the government. According to sources, the Turkish government had suggested that the network be handed over to an international NGO having inks with the Erdogan administration.

The management had also filed petitions in the Islamabad and Lahore high courts, seeking judicial orders to stop the Pakistani government from taking any “unlawful step which would compromise the future of the students”, or to maintain the status quo.

Parents of the students say withdrawal of the faculty and change of management will adversely affect standards at the educational institutions.

Last month, the foreign affairs ministry had informed the Islamabad High Court that the government was not going to shut down the institutions and that it had not received any request from the Turkish government for the transfer of their management to a third party.

The petition had been filed in the court amid speculation related to the closure or transfer of the 28 institutions from the current Pak-Turk Education Foundation, allegedly linked to Mr Gulen, to the “pro-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Maarif Foundation”. In its written comments, the ministry had said that “demand from any quarter to close the Pak-Turk Education Foundation has not been received”.

Our Staff Reporter in Lahore adds: In a statement, the management of the chain expressed concern over the government’s abrupt decision which required “the Turkish teachers, management and their family members numbering approximately 450 individuals, including school-going children, infants and ladies, to leave the country within three [working] days — an extraordinary time constraint— in consequence of non-approval of their requests for extension of visa”.

“We are in touch with the [relevant] authorities and are constantly assessing the situation, relying on the commitment of the Government of Pakistan’s concerned authorities through their written comments filed before the Honourable Islamabad High Court that they do not intend to take any adverse action against the Pak-Turk International Schools & Colleges across Pakistan,” the statement said.

“We also take this opportunity to alleviate the apprehensions of the students and their parents regarding ingress of some other organisation into the teachers and staff of the schools and ensure them of our firm stance against any such design or move.”

The statement added that the management and the expatriate staff reserved the right to invoke the jurisdiction of a competent forum or court against the decision of non-extension of visa and exit orders.