ISLAMABAD: The joint investigation team (JIT) probing money-laundering allegations against the Sharif family has blamed a number of government institutions for “creating impediments in the collection of evidence” in connection with the Panama Papers probe.
In its report before a three-judge Supreme Court bench, the JIT had alleged that the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the law ministry and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) were creating obstructions in handing over records, and that they were guilty of forgery and tampering with relevant documents.
The report was submitted to the Supreme Court in confidence, but later leaked to media by unknown elements.
Investigators complain of harassment through official channels, allege witnesses being ‘intimidated’ or ‘tutored’
In its application, signed by all six investigators, the JIT has also asked the court to issue a corrective direction so that government machinery is not misused. It has also asked the apex court to ensure the safety and security of the witnesses, JIT members, their families and the protection of their jobs and careers.
According to the JIT, during interrogation of witnesses from the SECP, it emerged that its Chairman Zafarul Haq Hijazi was allegedly instrumental in closing the investigation of the money-laundering case launched against Chaudhry Sugar Mills Ltd.
The investigation commenced in 2011, but was closed in 2016, with effect from Jan 8, 2013, at the sole behest of the SECP chairman, the report alleged.
This act of closing an investigation retroactively was a criminal act, ostensibly aimed at facilitating those who are being investigated, the report explained, stressing that it would be better not to divulge the name of the witness, lest their safety and security be compromised, along with the well-being of their families and relatives.
When the witness in question sought permission from the SECP commissioner to collect a record of inquiries initiated or pending against the Sharif family — in line with the JIT’s official instructions — the commissioner asked the witness, on behalf of the SECP chairman, to restrict himself to collecting inquiry reports from two local departments on the pretext of maintaining secrecy, the report claimed.
The report also alleged that the SECP chairman’s orders to tamper with the record and close the money-laundering investigation retroactively was executed by SECP Executive Director Ali Azeem Ikram, whose name was proposed for the JIT by the SECP chairman, clearly to subvert the ongoing investigation.
That was the reason the ‘WhatsApp call controversy’ was stirred, at the behest of the SECP chairman, and an attempt was made to implicate the apex court registrar, who had no role in the matter.
The report also described the role of IB as “highly questionable” and accused it of hacking the Facebook account of JIT member Bilal Rasul, which was also used by his wife/family, to retrieve the contents attached by Hussain Nawaz in his complaint before the Supreme Court.
Thus, private content on Mr Rasul’s Facebook account was accessed by Hussain Nawaz, ostensibly with the help of IB, which was an infringement of privacy. This also confirmed that government machinery was being blatantly misused to support the Sharif family, the report alleged.
On May 24 at about 7.30pm, the report alleged, IB field staff were found loitering near the residence of one of the JIT members and later visited his residence and questioned the housekeeper, raising concern in the household.
Similarly, the report accused NAB of employing underhanded tactics to pressure its representative, Irfan Naeem Mangi, who was issued a show cause notice by his department merely for the sake of coercing him.
The report also alleged intentional concealment, delay and tampering with official documents on the part of the law ministry.
On May 18, the JIT requested the ministry to forward a notification to member countries of United Nations Convention against Corruption, to notify the authorisation of the JIT head. But despite reminders, the ministry did nothing until the matter was brought to the notice of the court on May 23.
Similarly, FBR submitted piecemeal, incomplete and selective records of the income and wealth tax returns of the Sharif family from 1985 to date. No plausible explanation has been given for why a truncated set of records was given.
It was also claimed that witnesses were being tutored, allegedly at the behest of the Sharif family and confidential letters were being leaked by misusing the Prime Minister House.
It alleged that the CEO of Ittefaq Group – a close associate of the prime minister – directed Tariq Shafi, the PM’s cousin, to come to PM House before appearing before the JIT.
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2017