ISLAMABAD: Decision on a request made by the PML-N government for the formation of a judicial commission to probe the Panama Papers leaks will be taken after Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali returns from his visit abroad, acting CJP Saqib Nisar said on Saturday.
Speaking on the sidelines of his oath-taking ceremony as the acting CJP, Justice Nisar said he did not have the powers as the acting chief to constitute the judicial commission.
The CJP will consult other judges before making any decision regarding the commission requested by the government, said Justice Nisar. He made it clear that every government department or agency would be bound to cooperate and assist the judicial commission if it is constituted.
Registrar Supreme Court Arbab Arif told media personnel that although the letter by the government about the commission has already been sent to the chief justice, "the decision will be made after Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali returns”.
The oath was administered to Justice Nisar by Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa in a ceremony at the Supreme Court.
Justice Nisar will serve as CJP during Chief Justice Jamali's stay in Turkey, where he will participate in the annual ceremony of the Turkish Constitutional Court. He is expected to return on May 1.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his state address on Friday announced the writing of a letter to the chief justice to investigate allegations made against the premier's family in wake of the Panama Papers leak.
Soon after the announcement, the government issued an SRO under which a three-man commission under Section 3(1) of the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956 is appointed.
Constitutional expert S.M. Zafar said that the acting chief justice has the authority to take decision on the government request to constitute a judicial commission to probe the Panama Papers allegations.
However, "the acting Chief Justice Saqib Nisar is not willing to take any decision on the government’s request,” sources said.
Many, including former advocate general of Punjab, Khawaja Haris, were of the opinion that any decision by the acting chief justice will not be prudent because the opposition is demanding for a CJP-led commission to investigate the Panama leaks scandal.
“In all probability, the acting chief justice will prefer to stay away from the controversy,” he said.
Supreme Court Bar Association President Ali Zafar has termed the commission a powerless body because it had no power to conduct investigation in foreign lands.
His view was endorsed by former additional attorney general Tariq Khokhar who believed that the leaks scandal could not be investigated meaningfully in Pakistan because the material evidence was mostly in Panama.
“It is beyond the realm of possibility to expect anyone from Pakistan to probe in Panama, which being a sovereign state, is not legally required to render any assistance to a Pakistani commission,” he said.
But Pakistan Bar Council Vice-Chairman Farogh Naseem was of the opinion that the commission could appoint any panel with a direction to go abroad and seek evidence.
Commission's terms of reference
The Commission of Inquiry shall have the following Terms of Reference:
To examine information relating to involvement of Pakistani citizens, persons of Pakistan origin and legal entities in off-shore companies in Panama or in any other country.
Involvement of former and present holders of public office in writing off their own bank loans or those of their immediate family members through political influence.
Transfer from Pakistan of funds which have originated from corruption, commissions or kickbacks, and to determine whether, in any case referred to above, any law for the time being in force in Pakistan has been infringed.
In case the answer to above is affirmative, to determine responsibility for such infringement, and to make such recommendations as may be deemed appropriate.
The Commission shall have powers under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 for summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person, including a tax expert or accountant, and examining him on oath, requiring the discovery and production of any documents, receiving evidence on affidavits, issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses on documents and requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any Court or office.
The Commission shall have the powers to require any person, subject to any privilege which may be claimed by that person under any law for the time being in force, to furnish information on such point or matters as, in the opinion of the Commission, may be useful for, or relevant to, the subject matter of the inquiry.
Any officer not below the rank of a gazetted officer, specially authorized in this behalf by the President of the Commission may enter any building or place where the Commission has reason to believe that any books of account or other documents relating to the subject matter of the inquiry may be found, and may seize any such books of account or documents or take extracts or copies therefrom subject to the provisions of section 102 and section 103 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, insofar as they may be applicable.
Any proceeding before the Commission shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding within the meaning of sections 193 and 228 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860.
The Commission shall be assisted by all the concerned authorities of the Federal and Provincial Governments.
The Commission shall start the inquiry at a place and on a date to be fixed by it and shall submit its report to the Federal Government in accordance with its Terms of Reference.
The Cabinet Division shall provide secretarial assistance to the Commission.