The Joint Investigation Team probing the Panama leaks scandal has been made the butt of a needless controversy by the stalwarts of the ruling party. Over the past couple of weeks, PML-N leaders have launched a well orchestrated vilification campaign against the JIT, challenged the integrity and neutrality of its members and questioned the very legitimacy of the whole process.
The JIT was set up on April 20, 2017, by the Supreme Court to investigate the business dealings of the Sharif family in connection with the Panama Papers’ verdict. The JIT, composed of six members from the FIA, SECP, State Bank, ISI, MI and NAB, is tasked with probing the 13 questions spelled out by the Apex court. These questions are meant to follow the money trail leading to the purchase of London’s Mayfair flats by the Sharif family.
As the investigation got under way and Hussain Nawaz appeared before the JIT to answer questions regarding the sources of Sharif family’s assets abroad, PML-N spokesmen began to hurl allegations about the integrity and honesty of some members of the JIT. They first pounced upon a WhatsApp story in a section of the Press hinting at malfeasance in the selection of certain members of the JIT. It was followed by the leaked photo of Hussain Nawaz sitting before the JIT which the ruling party members described as humiliating and insulting for the Sharif family. Then followed a farrago of allegations against the JIT which was accused of operating as 007 and intimidating witnesses.
According to some observers, such tactics have been traditionally used
by the PML-N to scuttle the investigation process, make independent investigators controversial and, thus, escape justice in the Panama leaks scandal. What seems to have particularly alarmed the ruling family are hours-long interrogations and cross examinations of Tariq Shafi, a cousin of the Prime Minister, on his dubious role in illegally transferring money abroad from Pakistan over the past many decades.
It is no secret that the PML-N has been using its control over government departments to deny JIT access to vital information relating to the Panama probe. Matters came to a head on June 12, when the JIT told the SC that some governmental departments have shown reluctance in handing over relevant records. According to media reports, the JIT has also informed the Supreme Court that some state institutions are tampering with records and creating impediments in its way, besides threatening some members of the team.
In its report to the SC about the difficulties, hurdles and pressure on it during the course of its investigations, the team of investigators has charged the SECP chairman with record-tampering and non-cooperation. The JIT has also accused Intelligence Bureau personnel of threatening JIT Panama members, Bilal Rasool, and trying to hack Rasool and his family’s Facebook accounts. It has alleged that IB personnel were seen near the residence of Bilal Rasool on May 24, where they also threatened his servant. The NAB too has been accused of pressurizing JIT member, Irfan Mangi who was issued a show cause notice on April 25, 2017, for his deputation in the anti-graft body in 2004, and asked to submit an explanation in 15 days.
The Panama JIT investigation team has also accused the government of leaking details of JIT correspondence with concerned institutions: “The chairman of Ittefaq Group directed Tariq Shafi to visit PM House before his appearance before the JIT, wherein he was asked to submit a statement according to their directives.”
It is easy to see that the controversy created around the JIT is aimed at discrediting the whole investigation process. However, it must be remembered that the investigation team is not going to pass judgment against the Sharif family. It would just collect evidence on the basis of which the three-member bench of the Supreme Court would hand down a final ruling on the fate of the prime minister. Some media reports say that in the course of cross-examination by members of the Joint Investigation Team, some witnesses have reportedly spilled the beans about Nawaz
As the investigation got under way and Hussain Nawaz appeared before the JIT to answer questions regarding the sources of Sharif family’s assets abroad, PML-N spokesmen began to hurl allegations about the integrity and honesty of some members of the JIT. They first pounced upon a WhatsApp
story in a section of the Press hinting at malfeasance in the selection of certain members of the JIT.
Sharif’s suspected role in money laundering.
The million dollar question is: what next? If the Supreme Court gives an adverse verdict against the Sharif family, how will the PML-N react? Will Nawaz Sharif step down and call for new elections? The PML-N’s present mood is ugly and there are tell-tale signs that its diehard workers will take to the streets. According to media reports, lawyers from various bars of the country are also all set to launch a full-fledged movement against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after Eid. This will inevitably lead to street clashes.
As someone rightly said at the time the Panama papers were leaked that it was a bolt from the blue, presaging endless trouble for the Sharif family. That has turned out to be true. Nawaz Sharif is mired in trouble, and so is Pakistan. All signs point to stormy days ahead.