ISLAMABAD: Nawaz Sharif is set to appear today before the joint investigation team (JIT) probing allegations of money-laundering against his family, the first sitting prime minister to be directly questioned by investigators.
The JIT had prepared the questionnaire for the prime minister and his children last month. It questioned Hussain Nawaz, the PM’s elder son, on May 28. The investigation team has also grilled his younger son, Hassan.
According to the notice issued to the PM, he has been called as a witness, not as an accused party.
However, sources privy to the development say the JIT would ask him how he and his children acquired properties and set up various businesses in different parts of the world.
Investigators may also ask the PM about the factual variations in speeches he delivered on different forums after the Panama Papers surfaced, including his address to the nation, his speech in the National Assembly and his statement before the Supreme Court.
Sources said investigators may put questions developed in the light of the statements of his cousin Tariq Shafi and other witnesses.
SC reserves ruling on video recordings; former Qatari ruler expresses willingness to host JIT
Security around the Federal Judicial Academy, the place where the JIT has its offices, has been tightened ahead of the prime minister’s visit, and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz activists and leaders have displayed banners and posters welcoming their leader on most adjacent roads.
The JIT has also summoned Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in connection with the probe, while Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, the author of the Qatari letter, has reportedly offered investigators the opportunity to come to Qatar to record his statement.
The son-in-law of the prime minister retired Captain Mohammad Safdar has also been summoned by the JIT on June 25.
But on the eve of the PM’s scheduled appearance before the JIT, the Supreme Court reserved its ruling on whether video recording of witnesses should be allowed during interrogation.
The judgement was reserved in the wake of a rejoinder filed by Hussain Nawaz, disputing the JIT’s reply on the photo leak and seeking directions for immediate cessation of video recording of testimony.
His counsel, Khawaja Haris Ahmad, said that recording impeded the freedom of witnesses to say whatever they wanted to before investigators.
But Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, who heads the three-judge implementation bench, made it clear that the JIT’s video recording could not be treated as substantive evidence in a court and couldn’t be used for corroboration. They are only an aid to ensure accuracy; in the end, the court will decide the scope of such recordings, he said.
The court regretted the way judges were being criticised by people, including the media persons, who had not even read the judgement in the Panama Papers case.
“We know about this campaign. but we have charted a course under the law and do not care what the people say. No threat can thwart us,” Justice Khan said. Any impediment in the JIT’s work amounted to subverting the order of the Supreme Court, he observed.
When PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry told the court about his petition seeking an end to the government’s alleged smear campaign against the JIT, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, pointing towards Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf, reminded Mr Chaudhry that his offer for a gag order in this regard was still on the table.
But when Justice Saeed asked the AG why he didn’t advise his government to refrain from its smear campaign against the judiciary, Mr Ausaf said the campaign was “across the board”, holding both sides equally responsible.
The AG also supported Khawaja Haris’ point of view, arguing that the JIT had devised its own method of recording interrogations, which was against jurisprudence developed over the years. Allowing such recordings would require legislation, which was not a function of the court, AG argued.
Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, however, described the objections as an attempt to hamper the JIT, saying such reservations should have been expressed during the trial.
Referring to Hussain’s leaked photograph, Justice Ahsan wondered what was the harm in the picture, when the gentleman was seen respectfully sitting on a chair.
“The concerns being expressed do not appear to be legal, but more like political paranoia,” Justice Ahsan regretted.
Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2017