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SC turns down Asif's plea for stay order on disqualification ruling.

ISLAMABAD -- The Supreme Court on Monday declined Khawaja Asif's appeal to grant him a stay order against the verdict of the Islamabad High Court that saw him disqualified from public office.

One of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's top leaders, Khawaja Asif was accused of not declaring salary drawn from a UAE firm in which he was employed while also serving as Pakistan's foreign minister. The IHC had found the foreign minister guilty of concealing his financial assets and barred him from holding public office for life under Article 62 1(f) of the Constitution.

A three-member Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial also issued notices to the respondents, including Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Muhammad Usman Dar who had filed the petition against the foreign minister. Notices were also sent to the Election Commission of Pakistan and the secretary of the National Assembly.

Senior counsel Muneer A. Malik, representing former foreign minister Khawaja Asif, had requested the court to stay the order of disqualifying the PML-N politician for life.

Mr Malik argued that his client had been disqualified on three grounds possessing iqama (work permit), not declaring the salary he drew from the UAE-based firm in his nomination papers when he ran for office in 2013 and concealing a sum of 9,000 dirham (approximately Rs285,000 according to the current exchange rate).

Notices issued to ECP, NA secretary and PTI's Usman Dar on former foreign minister's appeal

Khawaja Asif, however, has denied using the Dubai-based bank account, which was closed on July 7, 2015.

Building up his argument, Mr Malik contended that the nomination papers for the 2013 elections had only asked for tax declarations which Khawaja Asif had submitted for the prior three years.

The counsel said his client's tax declaration from 2012 included the details of the salary he had received through his employment in the UAE.

He said the high court was not justified in concluding that Mr Asif had displayed a lack of honesty concerning the non-disclosure of the dormant bank account. The high court, Mr Malik argued, could not make such a judgement without giving any reason or pointing to any evidence that proved such alleged dishonesty.

The counsel argued that Mr Asif had not concealed anything from the authorities and had disclosed everything in his tax returns, which he had already submitted. Mr Malik claimed that information regarding Rs6.8 million in foreign remittances had also been recorded in the nomination forms.

During the proceedings, the counsel requested the court to hear the matter at the earliest instead of postponing the proceedings.

The court, however, adjourned the hearing for two weeks.

Mr Malik appealed to the court that the hearing be allowed and his client granted a stay order restoring him as member of parliament. Further arguing, the counsel suggested that no ill-intent had been proved in the matter and it should be investigated further to reach a fair conclusion.

In his appeal, Mr Asif contended that the high court had given the verdict, even though no allegation of corruption, fraud, embezzlement, accumulation of wealth, money laundering, misappropriation of public property, or abuse of public authority for private gain was ever levelled against him.

Citing the 2017 Mohammed Hanif Abbasi case against Imran Khan, the appeal highlighted how the Supreme Court had meticulously laid down a benchmark for the exercise of the quo warranto jurisdiction. The apex court had elaborated that the power of quo warranto relative to parliamentarians could only be exercised by courts if they (parliamentarians) had been disqualified for reasons that could directly be connected to corruption.

A quo warranto Latin for 'by what warrant?' is a prerogative writ, requiring the individual, to whom it is directed, to show by what authority he holds public office.

But the words corrupt, corruption or corrupt practices had not even been mentioned in the entire memo of the petition moved by Muhammad Usman Dar before the IHC, Mr Asif's counsel recalled.

Therefore, there was no justification for the high court to exercise quo warranto jurisdiction on the petition of a person who had come before it allegedly with soiled and unclean hands suppressing material information.

An inadvertent omission in his nomination papers a bank account which represented less than 0.5 per cent of his total assets, particularly when the account lay dormant, though still disclosed in the annual statement of assets and liabilities filed with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) could not be treated as wilful and dishonest concealment, the appeal argued.
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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:May 8, 2018
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