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Damning questions

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has formed a six-member joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the ruling family on its offshore companies. Thirteen questions will be asked from the Sharif family, raised by the court during the Panama case hearing. It appears the family will only attempt to delay the proceedings with one petition or the other as it has no answers to the questions. With the formation of the investigation team, demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have gown. All political parties, except Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Awami National Party (ANP) of Asfandyar Wali, which have ulterior motives with the ruling family, have forged unity for his resignation before investigations start. The investigation team has been handpicked by the court and it comprises the most competent and honest officers in the country. It will be headed by Wajid Zia from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and members include; Brigadier Nauman Saeed from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Brigadier Kamran Khurshid from the Military Intelligence (MI), Aamer Aziz from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Bilal Rasool from the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and Irfan Naeem Mangi from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). It is the first time in Pakistan’s history that national institutions will hold the sitting prime minister of the country accountable.

The thirteen questions to be asked from the family include: How was the Gulf Steel established; why it was sold; how were its liabilities paid; where the proceeds were spent after selling it; how funds were transferred to Jeddah, Qatar and the UK; had Hassan and Hussain, sons of the prime minister, resources to buy flats in 1990, when they were very young; is the Qatari letter true or fabricated; how bearer shares were converted into flats; who is the real owner of Neilson Enterprises; how Hill Metals Est., owned by Hassan Nawaz Sharif, was set up, where did the money for Flagship Investment Limited and other companies come from; where did the working capital for the companies come from and where do the huge sums running into millions gifted by Hassan Nawaz to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif drop in from? In fact, questions had started arising after the onset of the Panama Leaks in April last year. However, the prime minister attempted to dissociate himself from the offshore companies of his children and said his children had set up them with money provided by his father, Mian Sharif. The court has rejected his plea and he is the main accused to face investigations under the supervision of the court. The prime minister’s major problem was to save his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, from the possible fallout of the case and many observers claim he has largely succeeded in his efforts. Some people say he used some “powerful” connections to pressurise the PTI lawyers not to press charges against her in the court. Maryam was indirectly linked to the offshore companies in the Panama Leaks. She will also have to face investigations.

The court, in its verdict, mentioned her name several times. It cited a judgment of March 16, 1999, handed down by the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, London, whereby a huge sum of money was decreed on November 5, 1999, in favour of Al Towfeek Company and against Hudabiya Paper Mills Limited, Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif (a younger brother of respondent No. 1), Mian Muhammad Sharif (the father of respondent No. 1) and Mian Muhammad Abbas Sharif (another younger brother of respondent No. 1). “The record pertaining to the judgment and decree shows that for satisfaction of the decree the same four properties in London which are also the subject matter of the present petitions had been attached and subsequently on February 21, 2000, the charge/caution on those four properties was lifted by the court upon satisfaction of the decree which was to the tune of about 34 million US dollars. The Directors of Hudabiya Paper Mills Limited included Mr. Hussain Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Safdar, respondents No. 6 and 7 herein. The said respondents and the other defendants would not have paid such a huge amount to get the charge/caution lifted from the four properties in London if they had nothing to do with the ownership of those properties in the years 1999 and 2000. Mr. Hussain Nawaz Sharif was aged about 28 years and had no business of his own till then, Mr. Hassan Nawaz Sharif was a student with no personal earnings and Maryam Safdar did not own any property at that time, as disclosed by themselves in their interviews mentioned above.

Apart from that the source of funds available for making a huge payment of about 34 million US dollars in the year 2000 towards satisfaction of the above-mentioned decree had not been disclosed by respondent No. 1 and his children before this Court till another statement of the same gentleman from Qatar was filed before the Court later on,” the court noted. It appears not only Maryam, but Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif will also have to appear before the joint investigation team. If her father and brothers have not been cleared of wrongdoing by the court, how can she be left off the hook? According to the Panama Papers, she owns two offshore companies. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s close relative, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, is also an accused in a reference filed against the NAB chairman for not probing money laundering charges against him. His affidavit admitting laundering money for the Sharifs may land either him or the ruling family in trouble. The court will also have to see whether an approver in a financial crime can remain the finance minister of the country or not. The ruling family has no answers to the thirteen questions. It failed to answer them in the court and the parliament. It had produced only a Qatari letter in its defence, but its authenticity was questioned by the court. It will have to provide documented proof of its innocence, which it has failed to provide. It appears it will submit the same letter to the investigation team. The situation looks hopeless for the ruling family but some analysts believe the establishment is still backing the prime minister, because Imran Khan, who could become the next prime minister, has not really come up to snuff.

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