By Sajjad Shaukat
Deliberately created controversy over the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) set up on April 20, 2017 by the Supreme Court (SC) to probe the business dealings of the Sharif family abroad in connection with the Panama Papers’ verdict accelerated on June 12, this year, when the JIT team told the SC that some governmental departments have shown reluctance in handing over relevant records.
Media reports said that the JIT informed the Supreme Court of Pakistan that some state institutions are tampering the record and creating impediments in its way, besides threatening some members of team.
Earlier, the JIT has submitted a report in the SC with in relation to difficulties, hurdles and pressure on it during the course of its investigations.
In its report, the team of investigators alleged Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) chairman and executive director of record-tampering and non-cooperation.
The JIT also accused Intelligence Bureau (IB) personnel of threatening JIT member, Bilal Rasool, and trying to hack Rasool and his family’s Facebook accounts. It alleged that IB personnel were seen near the residence of Bilal Rasool on May 24, where they also threatened his servant.
According to these reports, “The JIT asked the SECP for record of Chaudhry Sugar Mills and all past inquiries against Sharif family. But, the SECP denied any inquiries held against Sharif family in the past, while a witness told that the SECP chairman directed not to search the record of inquiries…The SECP chief also ordered tampering of record of Chaudhry Sugar Mills and Executive Director Ali Azeem changed it from past dates. Azeem was also nominated by the SECP chairman for inclusion in the JIT to sabotage investigations.”
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was also accused of pressurizing JIT member, Irfan Mangi. In this regard, these reports further said, “The NAB issued a show cause notice to Mangi on April 25, 2017 for his deputation in the anti-graft body in 2004, and asked to submit an explanation in 15 days.
The investigation team also accused the government of leaking details of JIT correspondence with concerned institutions—the case has been asking witnesses to testify in their favour—“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 was pointed out that the leaking of secret correspondence to media was aimed at making investigations controversial—and “making information public this way raises concerns for witnesses’ security.”
The court expressed its concern that the JIT will not be able to complete the investigation within the timeframe of 60 days, if obstacles are created in the probe.
However, some politicians and media analysts are creating uncertainty in the country by making the JIT controversial through their irresponsible statements.
Everyone knows that the three-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan had finalized the members of the JIT, while, its members have been selected by the apex court entirely on merit by taking cognizance of their impartial and clean record.
And, Pakistan People’s Party has already rejected the Joint Investigation Team, formed by Supreme Court over the issue of the Panama leaks. In this respect, Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah have stated that if all the five judges declared Qatari letter as a false one, there was need to form the JIT. He further said that JIT should comprise Supreme Court judges—the court cannot investigate in such matters and has to depend on other departments which are bound to assist the apex court.
Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan have again said that the JIT cannot investigate Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif family’s offshore wealth since Nawaz Sharif remains in power, as all the concerned departments are under the control of the prime minister. He has also given a call to his party workers to be prepared for street protests, if the ruling party tried to attack the premises of the Supreme Court.
Nevertheless, all the politicians of the country must take note of the fact that the JIT has not been formed by the government, but the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and it would monitor the proceedings of the team on weekly basis. Hence, leaders of the ruling parties and those of the opposition parties must have trust in SC as well as the JIT.
Notably, the SC’s verdict on the Panama case was divided—3-2 among a five-judge bench, with the two judges—Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed had given ruling against PM Nawaz Sharif, saying he should be disqualified, while the other three Judges Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan had said in their verdicts that a JIT should be formed in this regard.
It was in this background that the Supreme Court asked the JIT to trace and investigate the money of the prime minister and his children.
The case had started after the documents, leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm, which disclosed that Nawaz Sharif’s daughter and his two sons owned offshore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London.
In this regard, the Supreme Court had begun investigation regarding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif family’s offshore wealth after opposition leader Imran Khan filed a petition in the apex court.
Although the name of the prime minister is not directly mentioned in the Panama documents, yet, his addresses to the people, clarifying his own position, as pursued by PML-N top leaders’ outspoken statements had further complicated the case. However, Supreme Court had ruled that there was insufficient evidence of corruption to remove Nawaz Sharif from the office of prime minister. Therefore, it ordered a further inquiry about his money trail.
In is mentionable that in its verdict, the SC had quoted, “The Godfather behind every big fortune—there is a crime”. Some analysts and politicians had interpreted the renowned quote as an indication of Sharif family’s corruption.
Nonetheless, Imran Khan had appreciated the verdict of the five-member bench of the Supreme Court regarding the formation of the JIT. Now, the SC has to give its final verdict in light of the JIT investigation. Hence, leaders of the ruling parties as well as those of the opposition parties should not make the JIT controversial. In this connection, some recent statements of the leader of the ruling party shows that they are deliberately creating controversy over the JII, as stated by Imran Khan. In this respect, media speculations and rumour-mongering are also likely to impact negatively on the functioning of the JIT. This practice must also be abandoned.