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‘SC focus is what lends credibility to JIT probe in Panama case’

Updated April 21, 2017


Leaders and supporters of ruling party PML-N celebrate after a Supreme Court verdict on the Panama Papers case outside the court building in Islamabad on April 20. — AFP
Leaders and supporters of ruling party PML-N celebrate after a Supreme Court verdict on the Panama Papers case outside the court building in Islamabad on April 20. — AFP

LAHORE: The probe to be conducted by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) ordered by apex court in Panama case verdict could be different from that of the Asghar Khan’s case involving Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif because of ‘direct supervision of apex court’, believe some officials in interior ministry Dawn spoke to on Thursday.

However, the PPP had a different view on the issue given its past experience of the cases that involve PM Nawaz Sharif as it was expecting “no adverse verdict against the champions of Takht-e-Lahore”, an official said. But, he added that the premier and his children were still not out of the woods.

“In the Asghar Khan case, the Federal Investigation Agency has been probing the case since 2013. It could not reach its logical end because neither the government nor the agency were given any time frame by the apex court in this regard. Contrary to this, the JIT in Panama case will have to submit report to the Supreme Court on fortnightly basis. Therefore, unlike the Asghar Khan case the ball is in the court of Supreme Court and not the Nawaz government,” a senior official in interior ministry said. He said the FIA’s probe in Asghar Khan case was almost complete but former army chief retired Gen Aslam Baig and former ISI chief retired Gen Asad Durani had filed a review petition against the court verdict, causing further delay. “But since the JIT will be answerable to the SC it will not be easy for the government functionaries to maneuver things,” he said.

The official further said unlike in the Asghar Khan case, the PML-N government might find it difficult to influence the JIT members who would be from FIA, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), State Bank of Pakistan, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI) and led by a director-general level FIA officer.

“Let me tell you, the question of strong or weak JIT does not arise in this case. In fact the apex court is powerful and its power will be the power of the JIT,” he argued.

Another official said that like the Asghar Khan case Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would have no issue in appearing before the JIT in Panama case. “But probing the Asghar Khan case was relatively easier than Panama... it will be a daunting task for the JIT to trace the money trail. It may not get international assistance in this regard, thus making it impossible to prove money laundering allegations against premier and his children.”

The PPP, however, has rejected the JIT, saying those agreeing on it were committing a ‘serious mistake’. “Although the terms of reference (ToR) of the

JIT are yet to be determined, its probe will not be different from that of the FIA’s in Asghar Khan case and at the end of the day the Sharifs will be given a clean chit,” PPP senior leader Naveed Chaudhry told Dawn.

He said how come the officials of different agencies that operate under the interior minister would dare to grill the premier and his children - Hasan and Hussain - in Panama probe. “If the apex court could not get the details of the money trail of the Sharifs in several months, how the poor JIT could do it in just 60 days,” he wondered.

Chaudhry said the PPP already knew the fate of Panama case and that was why it did not become a petitioner. “However, considering the dissenting note of two judges in five-bench decision, Nawaz Sharif should step down for the sake of democracy and let the system function smoothly,” he suggested.

Meanwhile, a source in the FIA told Dawn that its probe in Asghar Khan case was almost complete. “We have recorded the statements of all characters (involved) in the case, except Aslam Baig and a couple others,” he said.

The Supreme Court, in Oct 2012, had ordered legal proceedings against a former head of top intelligence agency and ex-army chief over allegations that politicians were bankrolled to stop the Pakistan People’s Party of Benazir Bhutto from coming to power after winning the 1990 elections.

The FIA probe has been underway since late 2013 into distribution of an amount to the tune of Rs140 million among various politicians (including Nawaz Sharif).

In connection with case, the FIA recorded statements of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan, Asad Durrani, Mehran Bank owner Younis Habib, advocate Yousuf Memon, politicians Javed Hashmi, Abida Hussain and her husband, former speaker of National Assembly, Fakhr Imam, and Ghulam Mustafa Khar (former Punjab governor), veteran journalist Altaf Hassan Qureshi and over a dozen former government employees, besides officials of ISI and MI.

In 2012, the apex court’s decision had come 16 years after retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan filed the petition, requesting the court to look into allegations that the ISI had financed many politicians in the 1990 election by dishing out Rs140 million to create the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and stop Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from coming to power. The petition was based on an affidavit of Gen Durrani.

A three-judge bench comprising then chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Jawad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain ruled in a short order that there was “ample evidence” to suggest that the 1990 election was rigged and that a political cell maintained by the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan supported the formation of the IJI to stop the PPP from coming to power again.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2017