NEWS & VIEWS
THE Supreme Court-sanctioned Joint investigation team (JIT) probing the Panamagate graft case against Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family submitted its final report to the Supreme Court on July 10, 2017. Besides other evidence, the report consists of the statements of Prime Minister Sharif, his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif; his children Hussain Nawaz, Hassan Nawaz, Maryam Nawaz and retired Captain Mohammad Safdar. The six-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was set up in May by the Supreme Court with the mandate to probe the Sharif family for allegedly failing to provide the trail of money used for buying properties in London in 1990s. In April, 2016, the Panama Papers revealed that three of Prime Minister Sharif’s children owned offshore companies and assets not shown on his family’s wealth statement. The assets in question include four expensive flats in Park Lane, London.
The JIT has recommended that at least 10 alleged corruption cases instituted against Nawaz Sharif and his family members by Pervez Musharraf, some of which were thoroughly probed and decided by different courts, should be reopened; and appeals, where necessary, be filed. The JIT also suggested that keeping in view the fresh, very strong and comprehensive documentary evidence, money trail and banking record, an appeal should be filed in the Supreme Court against the LHC judgment in which it had set aside a 2000 reference against the Prime Minister relating to the Hudabiya Paper Mills. Besides other charges like tampering of Chaudhary Sugar Mills record, forgery of Maryam Nawaz’ affidavit and perjury etc, the JIT finds Nawaz Sharif and his three children — Maryam, Hussain and Hassan — to have assets beyond known means of income.
There is a perception that the situation is of PM’s own creation. Had the PML-N government agreed with opposition parties on the terms of reference and forming a commission to inquire into the Panama Leaks findings, Prime Minister and his family members would not have faced interrogations by the JIT. The apex court had taken up the case in October last year on petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Awami Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami, and had reserved the verdict in February 2017. The final verdict was split 3-2 among the five-judge bench, with two dissenting notes from Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed, who ruled against PM Nawaz Sharif stating he should be disqualified as he could no longer be considered ‘honest’ and ‘truthful’ (ameen and sadiq). The other three judges were in favor of forming a JIT to definitively answer the question of whether the allegations against the Prime Minister were true or not.
The PML-N leaders had rejoiced over the verdict by the five-member bench and its order to form JIT. They believed that PM Nawaz Sharif, being in the saddle, would be able to influence members of the JIT; but when the Supreme Court inducted the competent and honest members from the agencies and regulators, PML-N leaders started raising objections against the JIT. After appearing before JIT, members of Sharif family, Ishaq Dar and PM himself passed acerbic remarks against the members of JIT mandated by the three-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. After making the JIT report public, the bench asked the respondents and defendants to appear before the court on July 17, 2017, and come up with any reservations and objections against the findings of the JIT. It means that JIT report is not the final word; and the Bench could accept the report in its entirety or reject any part not based on incontrovertible evidence.
Prime Minister should, therefore, have faith in the Bench and keep his cool otherwise Pakistan can face chaos and anarchy. Today, Pakistan’s judiciary is independent and unbiased, which is acknowledged by all and sundry. In February 2017, during the proceedings of Panama Leak case, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had remarked that NAB and FBR are not properly probing the case; and if institutions are not working, the court has to intervene. Judges have many a time remarked that institutions are not functioning the way they should. Anyhow, popularity of the PML-N government at present is at the lowest ebb in the public eye. Even those anchorpersons and panelists who have been defending the indefensible are distancing themselves from the PML-N after release of the JIT report. Almost all political parties, except JUI of Fazlur Rehman and Mehmood Achakzai of PkMAP, are demanding that prime minister should step aside till the final verdict of the apex court.
PML-N leaders have rejected the JIT report, and trying to malign the members of the JIT. But it is a tantamount to maligning the judiciary, as JIT was formed by the three-member bench of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court bench has issued contempt of court notices to the news reporter Ahmed Noorani, owner of Geo Group Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman and publisher Javed-ur-Rehman for publishing fabricated stories and misleading the people. Earlier, Senator Nehal Hashmi had been indicted for contempt of court for his threatening remarks against the JIT members and judiciary. Supreme Court of Pakistan has summoned the record of speeches by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders including Khawaja Saad Rafique, Khawaja Asif, Talal Chaudhry and Asif Kirmani for defaming the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and the judiciary. The government should wait for the verdict and avoid confrontation with the institutions, as it could lead to chaos and anarchy and unpredictable consequences.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.
NEWS & VIEWS