By Aamir Latif
A Pakistani high court on Thursday disqualified the country’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif for life for hiding assets and possessing a foreign work visa, a court record said.
A three-member bench of the Islamabad High Court led by Justice Athar Minaullah disqualified the foreign minister under article 62-1F of the constitution -- an article under which the three-time Prime Minister Nawaz sharif was ousted in July last year by the Supreme Court in the whistleblower Panama Papers scandal.
The court also ordered the election commission to “de-notify” Asif as a parliamentarian. The former foreign minister has the right to appeal the judgment in the apex court in next seven days, according to the law.
Speaking to local Samaa TV, Asif said he will challenge the judgment in the Supreme Court.
Asif qualification was challenged by his rival candidate, who lost the 2013 general elections, on the ground that the former possessed a United Arab Emirates (UAE) “Iqama,” or the work visa, which was renewed in June 2017 and was valid till June 28, 2019.
This, according to the petitioner, established that in spite of being a federal minister, Asif intended to surreptitiously and secretly continue with his full-time employment in the UAE in violation of his oath of office under the constitution.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz group (PML-N), in a sharp reaction, called the judgment as a “fix match.”
“Those who could not be defeated while playing fairly have been ousted after fixing the match. Mark my word, people will vote even the shadow of Khawaja Asif” in next elections, Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former premier Sharif, wrote on her Twitter account.
The law minister of the country’s largest Punjab province termed the judgment “as per expectations.”
“We expected this judgment especially after the Supreme Court last month ruled that any parliamentarian who even mistakenly fails to declare any of his or her assets, will be disqualified unless the parliament amends this clause,” Rana Sanaullah, the law minister, told local Samaa TV.
He was referring to a recent Supreme Court’s ruling that any parliamentarian disqualified under article 62-1F of the constitution, which requires a lawmaker to be “honest”, and “ trustworthy” will remain ineligible for holding any public office for life.
The latest judgment serves as a second major blow in less than a year when the general elections are around the corner.
Last year, a five-member Supreme Court bench disqualified Sharif for life in the Panama Papers scandal for hiding his work visa.
The three-time premier blames the country’s establishment -- a term commonly used for the powerful army -- behind his ouster.