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Panama Papers: Pakistan Supreme Court takes action after probe panel’s report

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the opening of a criminal case against a top official after a probe panel submitted its report on the alleged offshore assets of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family.

world Updated: Jul 10, 2017 20:12 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Future tense?  Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Future tense? Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (REUTERS)

The Supreme Court ordered the opening of a criminal case against the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan’s chairman after a panel probing the alleged offshore assets of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family submitted its final report on Monday.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court swung into action after receiving the report from the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that examined allegations of money laundering.

Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan chairman Zafar Hijazi had been accused by a federal investigation agency of tampering records to favour Sharif’s family.

The bench also ordered a contempt of court notice to be issued to the Jang Group, a leading media house, for a story published in its The News daily that speculated on the findings of the JIT.

Citing “sources close to the JIT”, The News had reported on Monday that the panel had not held the prime minister responsible for any wrongdoing, though it linked Sharif’s sons Hussain and Hassan to some questionable financial transactions.

The bench also took notice of statements made by public and political figures regarding the case and sought transcripts of all speeches made in the past 60 days by members of the ruling PML-N party.

It ordered that the name and institution of the individual responsible for leaking a photo of Hussain Nawaz appearing before the JIT should be made public.

Members of the JIT arrived at the Supreme Court amid tight security. Large cardboard boxes labelled “Evidence” were carted into the court as the members of the panel made their way into the courtroom.

The Supreme Court took up the matter after it was petitioned by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regarding disclosures in the Panama Papers leaks about offshore assets owned by Sharif’s three children.

PML-N spokesman Daniyal Aziz said his party believed the JIT’s report was “dead on arrival” and “still-born”. The party believes the statement of former Qatari premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani regarding the purchase of offshore assets by the Sharif family should be part of the evidence, he said.

PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry expressed hope the Supreme Court’s order would be upheld. Calling for an end to “this mudslinging competition”, he called for a separate case of perjury to be registered against the SECP chairman who, he said, should give up the names of the people who made him perjure himself.

There was no official word on the findings of the six-member JIT, which was appointed by the Supreme Court.

Leaders of the PML-N went into a huddle to frame a plan of action following the submission of the report. Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, who was named in the Panama Papers leaks, had called the JIT a “conspiracy against democracy”.

A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court had been split 3-2 while ordering the formation of the JIT on April 20. The head judge and one more had ruled against the premier in their dissenting notes.

The JIT had been asked to investigate the money trail behind the purchase of several flats in London owned by Sharif’s children. The JIT, headed by Federal Investigation Agency additional director general Wajid Zia, also included representatives of the Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence.

The JIT questioned seven members of the Sharif family, including the prime minister. His elder son Hussain appeared before the panel six times while younger son Hassan appeared thrice. Others who were quizzed were Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz and her husband Muhammad Safdar Awan, Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and finance minister Ishaq Dar, who is related to the Sharif family through marriage.

The Sharif family’s prime defence witness – Qatari Prince Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, who supported the Sharifs’ money trail through two separate letters – did not appear before the JIT.