ISLAMABAD: Formally withdrawing their demand for the prime minister’s resignation, opposition parties on Tuesday finally agreed on a draft of the terms of reference (ToRs) for the judicial commission to investigate the allegations thrown up by the Panama Papers leaks.
Opposition parties want the formation of a three-member judicial commission — headed by the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) — through an act of parliament. The commission, they say, should first hold an inquiry against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and members of his family and will be given three months, extendable to four, to complete the task.
Only then, according to the opposition-drafted ToRs, can it start proceedings against other Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers and will have a year to complete this task.
According to the ToRs finalised on Tuesday, the judicial commission is required to seek complete details of the properties bought and sold, and the money trail of transactions used to set up offshore companies starting from 1985 — when Nawaz Sharif was elected Punjab chief minister for the first time.
Briefing reporters outside his residence, Senate Opposition Leader Aitzaz Ahsan admitted that opposition parties were divided on the demand for the prime minister’s resignation.
“The opposition parties do not have differences over the issue, but they also do not have a consensus over it [the demand for his resignation],” Mr Ahsan said, adding that this did not mean that his party had withdrawn the demand made by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in Azad Kashmir a few days ago.
He claimed that almost all major parties agreed that the opposition should call for the prime minister’s resignation.
Commission to examine Sharif family assets from 1985; ToRs call on defendants to prove their innocence
The representatives of nine opposition parties, during an earlier meeting on Monday, had failed to finalise a draft of the ToRs they wanted to present to the government.
Sources said that over the past two days, the two main opposition parties — the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf — had tried hard, but failed to convince other parties of their demand for the prime minister’s resignation.
Sources said the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), Awami National Party and Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party had forcefully opposed the inclusion of the demand for the prime minister’s resignation in the ToRs, terming it “premature”.
Accompanied by Shah Memhood Qureshi and Hamid Khan of the PTI, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed of the Awami Muslim League and Afrasiab Khattak of the ANP and some party colleagues, Mr Ahsan said the judicial commission should be constituted through a special act of parliament to be called ‘the Panama Papers (Inquiry and Trial) Act 2016’.
Another important point in the ToRs is that “the burden of proof in all matters shall be entirely on the respondent (the prime minister) and his family to prove their innocence”.
Nine opposition parties — the PPP, PTI, ANP, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, PML-Q, BNP-Awami, AML, Jamaat-i-Islami and QWP — have endorsed the new ToRs.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Information Secretary Mushahidullah Khan told Dawn that the government would come out with an official response to the opposition-drafted ToRs on Wednesday, after thoroughly reviewing the document.
But, at the same time, he said, he believed that the government should engage the opposition, as it had done before the constitution of a similar commission to probe charges of rigging in the 2013 elections. “The doors of negotiations are never closed in a democracy,” he added.
The ToRs call for the commission to probe the sources of income available to the “respondent and his family” during the period from 1985 and 2016; details of bank accounts in which these funds were kept; year-wise details of the income tax paid by the respondents; the date and banks through which these funds were utilised in the purchase of properties abroad and the names of the person(s) from whom the properties were purchased.
The opposition has also called for probing the sources Mr Sharif and his family members’ incomes during the time they lived in exile.
The ToRs contain specific questions for the commission, to inquire whether “the prime minister or his family during their stay abroad from December 2000 were state guests on behalf of Pakistan? And whether any property, gift or amounts received by them during that period belonged to the state of Pakistan and were liable to be deposited in the state exchequer?”
The ToRs allow the commission to appoint a committee of experts in international forensic audit to carry out an exhaustive investigation and audit into the offshore companies and their accounts.
The ToRs allow the commission to liquidate and forfeit the assets not acquired through legitimate means.
“A respondent held responsible by the commission for any illegal act or conduct shall be prosecuted and punished in accordance with law by a court of competent jurisdiction,” it says.
The ToRs make it binding upon the government to publish the commission’s report within one week of its submission, “provided that the report concerning the prime minister and his family shall be completed and submitted in the first instance.” The commission’s proceedings will also be open to the public.
Besides this, the commission will also have the powers to constitute an international joint investigation team or teams and seek international cooperation from foreign countries, agents to provide information, documents, evidence and record from abroad.
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2016