ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court’s long-awaited verdict on the Panama Papers case has ordered a multi-agency probe against the incumbent prime minister.
But apart from the two intelligence agencies, all the other institutions concerned have already shown an unwillingness to investigate the matter in the past.
In its judgement, the SC directed the heads of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) to nominate representatives to probe whether the prime minister and his family had members had accumulated assets beyond their known sources of income.
The heads of all these institutions, however, have already told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of parliament that an investigation into the Panamagate case was beyond the scope of their powers.
NAB, FIA, SBP and SECP heads have already told PAC they can’t investigate the matter
The NAB chairman, FIA director general, SBP governor and the SECP chairman openly expressed their helplessness before the committee when they were invited by PAC Chairman Syed Khursheed Shah, saying that restrictions in their respective laws did not allow them to investigate the allegations contained in the Panama Papers.
At the time, NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry was of the view that the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) empowered the bureau to arrest any suspect on charges of corruption, but practically, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) was proceeding against those who had been named in the Panama Papers under the Code of Civil Procedure.
If FBR detected an offence that may fall in the domain of criminal proceedings, NAB would charge that person and deal with them in accordance with the law, he had said.
Since the scam is based on leaks and not on tangible evidence, the chairman’s stance was that NAB cannot take action against those named in the documents.
FIA DG Amlish Khan also expressed his helplessness to conduct a probe into the matter, since it was related to tax-evasion.
With regards to allegations of money laundering, the FIA chief was of the view that the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) was introduced in 2010 and that the alleged transactions were made before its promulgation.
FIA, he said, lacked the jurisdiction to investigate public office holders as the law only allowed the agency to investigate matters related to government servants.
SECP Chairman Zafar Hijazi claimed that the finance ministry had asked them to investigate the Panama Papers on April 29. The commission had established that 155 persons named in the papers were associated with 36 registered companies in Pakistan, but Mr Hijazi expressed his helplessness to investigate the allegations, saying that since the individuals might have invested in offshore companies in a personal capacity, the SECP cannot probe such transactions.
SBP Governor Ashraf Wathra also stated that the central bank could not investigate such matters, since it could only trace suspicious transactions made through banking channels and forward its reports to the agencies investigating the case.
PML-N MNA Pervaiz Malik, who is also a member of the PAC, told Dawn that since the JIT had been ordered to investigate, it therefore had to proceed in accordance with the court’s directions.
PTI MNA Dr Arif Alvi, another PAC member, was less hopeful. He said that the attitude of the heads of investigation agencies and relevant departments appeared to be “casual” when they appeared before the committee.
Now, he said, the apex court had chalked out a road-map for investigation agencies and framed certain questions which the proposed JIT would place before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his sons Hassan and Hussain.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2017