NationalVolume 12 Issue # 21

Panama, JIT and more…

What started as the Panama papers scandal has now morphed into a new ball game – JIT proceedings – in which the opposing parties have become involved with the same intensity and grimness as during the Panama case hearings.

It may be recalled here that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had announced its verdict in the Panama case on April 20, in which it ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team to probe the offshore assets of the Sharif family. In its judgment, the Supreme Court had also outlined the scope of the proposed JIT, which was to probe how the Gulf Steel Mills in the UAE came into being, what led to its sale, what happened to its liabilities, where did its sale proceeds end up, how did they reach Jeddah, Qatar and the UK, whether Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz in view of their tender age at the time had the means to possess and purchase the flats, and whether the sudden appearance of the letters of Hamad Bin Jassim Al-Thani of Qatar was a myth or a reality.

The court also asked how bearer shares translated into the four expensive flats in London, who was the real and beneficial owner of Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited, how did Hill Metal Establishment come into existence, where did the money for Flagship Investment Limited and other companies set up, or taken over, by Hassan Nawaz come from and where do the huge sums running into millions gifted by Hussain Nawaz to the prime minister drop in from.

Headed by FIA Additional Director Wajid Zia and comprising SBP officer Amer Aziz, SECP Executive Director Bilal Rasool, Balochistan NAB DG Irfan Naeem Mangi, intelligence officials retired Brig. Nauman Saeed and Brig. Kamran Khurshid, the JIT is now on the job and both Hassan and Hussain have appeared before it several times. The JIT has a 60day time limit to complete its task.

In the meantime, several controversies have erupted around the proceedings and structure as well as the credibility of the JIT, with PML-N taking the offensive and obliquely challenging the fairness of the investigation process. In this connection the most shocking development was an open verbal attack on the court by former senator Nihal Hashmi who threatened the judges and their children for their role in the Panama case and putting PM Nawaz Sharif and his family through the wringer of the judicial process. He warned those in service of the state – who are seeking to hold Nawaz Sharif to account and making his life difficult – of dire consequences and of making Pakistan unliveable for them.

Strongly reacting to Nihal Hasmi’s diatribe, the court drew a parallel between the government and the Sicilian mafia. The situation took a turn for the worse when an unnamed government spokesman accused the judges of breaching their code of conduct. Another controversy around the JIT relates to the alleged VOIP calls by the Registrar SC to heads of the SECP and State Bank, raising a question mark over the JIT’s composition. It has been pointed out that the court order in the Panama case was that the JIT shall include “a nominee” each from the State Bank and SECP, to be nominated by their respective heads, and such names to be placed before the bench in chambers for “nomination and approval”. If the Registrar SC asked the SECP and State Bank, as alleged, to nominate pre-identified individuals, such request wasn’t in accordance with the SC order.

The “leaked” photo of Hussain Nawaz sitting in wait for a call from the investigators is the latest scandal to hit the JIT proceedings. While PMLN has expressed serious apprehensions over the leak, PTI leader Ali Zaidi has alleged that the media cell run by Maryam Nawaz is behind it. Meanwhile, PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhary has said that Chaudhary Nisar and the IB leaked the photo of Hussain Nawaz. On the other hand, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq has said that Hussain Nawaz’s underinvestigation picture was leaked to humiliate the Sharif family. In a statement, he said action should be taken against those responsible for sharing in-camera proceedings of the JIT.

Ever since the Supreme Court took up the Panama Papers case last November, the court has been faced with a difficult task which is to deliver a fair judicial verdict in a matter that has been heavily politicised. The PML’s apprehension is that the Supreme Court is out to send the government packing. That is why the party spokesmen are making such a song and dance about the JIT proceedings and trying to make them controversial.

It appears PML-N is preparing the ground for a boycott of the JIT if an adverse report incriminating the Sharif family comes out. In that eventually, it will take to the streets and will be confronted by the opposition parties with equal force. That will result in uncontrollable chaos which may lead to anything, including intervention by the military.