ISLAMABAD: The government had no answers when senior PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan hit out at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children on Monday, calling into question the investment they had allegedly made through offshore companies.
Since the Panama Papers leak last week, the prime minster and his family have been facing criticism from opposition parties. The opposition used the joint sitting to press ahead with their demand for a forensic audit of the evidence by a commission led by the Chief Justice of Pakistan.
The opposition parties have so far demonstrated an uncharacteristic unity to insist that Prime Minister Sharif, his two sons and daughter present themselves for an impartial inquiry into the accounts of offshore companies allegedly owned by them.
Although Monday’s joint sitting was convened for a vote on the PIA bill, the opposition benches sought a discussion on the Panama leaks, which the government agreed willy-nilly as it wanted to get the bill passed unanimously.
The two main opposition parties — PPP and PTI — reiterated their demand for a CJP-led commission.
As luck would have it, the opposition chose Senator Aitzaz Ahsan to present its case against the prime minister and his family for allegedly setting up offshore companies.
After the Panama leaks, the opposition parties have accused the Sharif family of money laundering and tax evasion and called for a thorough investigation by international audit firms with the CJP playing a supervisory role.
PPP and PTI reiterate demand for CJP-led commission
A battle hardened Ahsan was at his best to connect the dots when it came to raising serious questions about the Sharifs’ intentions behind raising companies in the tax havens.
“Internationally, offshore companies are formed for two purposes — to hide the source of income and their beneficiaries. Had these documents not been made public, who would have known the details which now a son of the prime minister has accepted on record?” he wondered.
Knowing the art of mixing facts with hard-hitting criticism in a subtle manner, the PPP senator, throughout his over one hour speech, kept the government ministers, who every now and then would taunt him, on the edge of their seats.
“I can understand the uneasiness which the treasury benches are experiencing at the moment. It’s better to listen to me before a thanedar comes and makes you understand these hard facts,” he said.
About the one-member commission the prime minister has decided to form to investigate the Panama leaks, Mr Ahsan recalled how a father (former CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry) did the same to save his son. It’s not acceptable because Sharifs were known for their influence on one-member commissions, he said, referring to former president retired Justice Rafiq Tarar, who allegedly was on the PML-N side during its infamous standoff with the judiciary in the 1990s.
Moreover, Mr Ahsan said, new evidence had now emerged that showed an offshore company – Chadron – which provided a loan of $20 million to Chaudhry Sugar Mills owned by the Sharif family in the early 90s.
Interestingly, the PPP leader added, the State Bank had last night issued a clarification stating that Chadron was a subsidiary of Faisal Bank created to fund $20m for Chaudhry Sugar Mills and it had nothing to do with the prime minister and his family.
“Now question arises how come a bank took the liability of such an huge amount to make investment in the business concerns of serving prime minister during the early 90s. If this can happen in this world, please arrange a similar loan for me as well,” quipped the PPP senator.
He said let’s accept that the prime minister and his children had made their billions through fair means, though such things could only happen in fairly tales, “we are only asking them to share details of their sources of income and how they transferred the money to offshore companies”.
At the same time, Mr Ahsan recalled former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had been jailed because he gave jobs and recently a PML-N MNA retired Justice Iftikhar Cheema had been de-seated only for not sharing details of his one bank account.
The government side decided to field Senator Mushahidullah Khan for a hard-hitting response. Towards the fag-end of the sitting, Senator Khan could only recall how Mr Ahsan had benefited from LPG quota during Musharraf regime and how he had left the PPP in 1979 and joined hands with those who were against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Senator Khan was so desperate to settle score against Mr Ahsan that the National Assembly speaker had to twice expunge his utterance for being un-parliamentary.
However, he couldn’t give a plausible reply to the questions raised by Senator Ahsan against the prime minister and his family on the issue of offshore companies.
Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2016