NationalVolume 12 Issue # 24

Accountability to grind only the Sharifs?

The joint investigation team (JIT), formed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to probe the Panama Papers case, has recommended reopening 15 cases against the Sharif family. The Sharifs have faced real accountability for the first time, but it appears they will not be the last to face the process as there are credible reports that it would expand in a few months.

The JIT has set the ball rolling after it sought help from different countries under agreements on mutual legal assistance. According to sources, the accountability process will not stop at the Sharifs and investigations would also start against all accused, who were named in the Panama leaks. People, who hold Swiss accounts, purchased properties in the UAE and the UK, including the Surrey Palace, will also be included in the probe. Former President Asif Zardari must have already started feeling the heat, though he has been cleared of all charges.

In 2015, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) submitted a report on 150 mega scams in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which included the names of top politicians and bureaucrats of the country. The report was submitted after the court had reprimanded the NAB several times and it transpired that the anti-graft body failed to complete investigations even in 20 years. The report included cases against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, former President Asif Ali Zardari and other politicians and bureaucrats of the country. The report stated that since 2000, two investigations were underway against the Sharif brothers on charges of misusing their authority in construction of a road from Raiwind to their family home, thus misappropriating Rs126 million. In another matter of an illegal appointment in the Federal Investigation Agency, a NAB investigation had been underway against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif since December 18, 1999. Since February 11, 2000, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar also faced a probe for misusing his authority and holding assets beyond his stated means.

Former President Asif Zardari was probed for amassing illegal assets worth Rs22 billion. Seven investigations continued against former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for misusing his authority in awarding rental power plants’ contracts. PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat and former Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had been under investigation since April 12, 2000, for misusing their authority to amass assets worth Rs2.428 billion, which were beyond their means. Since October 7, 2000, former Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao faced an investigation for amassing assets beyond known sources of income. In 2014, an inquiry was also launched against former Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Khan Raisani for amassing assets worth Rs100 million beyond known sources of income. Former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani also faced a case for illegal appointment of Tauqir Sadiq as chairman of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA). NAB launched an inquiry against former Federal Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan for misusing authority and embezzlement in movable property. It also investigated Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) officials for misusing authority by sanctioning illegal inadmissible sales tax funds on dubious, bogus and flying invoices, causing losses of Rs2.5 billion to the exchequer. In April, 2015, an inquiry was initiated against officers of the Rawalpindi Development Authority for misusing authority for irregular award of elevator and platform sliding door for the metro bus project. On June 15, a probe was launched against PM’s adviser Haroon Akhtar Khan and his brother Ghazi Akhtar Khan for suspicious transaction worth Rs700 million.

Prominent industrialist Mian Muhammad Mansha also faced a probe for corruption in the sale of Muslim Commercial Bank. On June 6, 2015, an inquiry was initiated against businessman Jahangir Siddiqui for misappropriation of Rs2 billion. Inquiries also started against Ayaz Khan Niazi, ex-chairman of the National Insurance Company Limited, for Rs2b embezzlement. However, NAB, in connivance with the government, put almost all investigations in cold storage or helped the accused go scot-free. In the Panama case, the Supreme Court observed that NAB was practically dead and it was facilitating the accused and promoting corruption in the country, instead of taking action against VIP wrongdoers.

According to figures released early this year by the Dubai Land Depart¬ment (DLD), the share of Pakistani investors in the Dubai property market in 2016 stood at AED 4.4 billion ($1.2b), which was 42.8 per cent less as compared to 2015. With the AED 4.4b investment in 2016, the investment of Pakistanis in Dubai property market since 2013 reached AED 28.4bn ($7.73b) or Rs810b.

Unfazed by tight regulations in the world after the onset of the Panama leaks, Pakistanis have stashed more money in Swiss banks and bought properties worth billions of rupees abroad in recent years. According to the latest data released by the Swiss National Bank, money kept by Pakistani nationals in Swiss banks has risen by more than 16 per cent a year to 1.5 billion franc (over Rs160b), exceeding funds from Indians. It included funds amounting to 1,477 million francs, held directly by Pakistani nationals and entities, and 36 million francs through fiduciaries or wealth managers. It is the second straight year the amount of Pakistan-linked funds in Swiss banks has risen while the same for India has fallen for the second consecutive year and stood at 1,217 million francs at the end of 2015 _ a decline of 33 per cent. It shows the Indian government’s efforts are bearing fruit while the Pakistani government is least interested about foreign accounts of its people.

According to experts, the process of accountability will continue under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, as it has received enough material against hundreds of people through the JIT. The JIT proved that officers of national institutions are capable of investigating complex corruption cases, provided they work under the judiciary. It is expected that the accountability process will expand and national institutions will be given specific time by the court to reinvestigate cases against all top politicians and current and former bureaucrats. It appears all institutions will have to work like the JIT in coming days.