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ISLAMABAD: Despite the hype over the joint investigation team (JIT) and its ongoing investigations of the prime minister and his family, legal and investigation experts feel the report, once it is presented to the court, will simply be the beginning of a long process.

While the slightly breathless coverage of the JIT progress seems to imply that the prime minister’s disqualification is around the corner, the reality may not be as simple.

Legal experts feel that the JIT’s report, once it is completed, may lead to further hearings.

Senior lawyer Shuaib Shaheen also feels that the apex court is not likely to disqualify the prime minister on the basis of the JIT report.

Lawyers and experts feel the report will indicate a need for further investigations and probing

Once the report is submitted, the court would then allow lawyers to object to or argue in favour of the report. “It [the court] may then remand this case to an appropriate forum in case the court thinks it is fit for trial.”

This is a legal view that is not denied by the PTI legal eagles also. The party’s lawyer, Faisal Hussain, also agreed that the Supreme Court’s immediate aim will be to decide the fate of the JIT report.

He is also of the view that Sharifs may face trial in case the JIT would not clear them in the final report.

He, however, said the apex court may disqualify the PM before sending his reference to NAB or any other forum for trial.

Investigators, who have worked on similar cases, also feel that the report will indicate the need for further investigations and probing.

In background discussions, they argue that while the JIT report is not likely to exonerate the Sharifs from the charges of money laundering, it might be used by the Supreme Court to send the matter to a competent forum.

“The Supreme Court heard the case for three months and then took four months to write the judgment; how can the six-member JIT collect all the required evidence from Pakistan and abroad and complete investigations in two months?” one such official said.

He was of the opinion that the JIT might even request the apex court to remand the matter either to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Though the Supreme Court has empowered the JIT to probe the allegations of money laundering against the Sharif family under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Act 1973 and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) 1898, experts feel that it is very difficult to conduct an inquiry and an investigation under NAO and FIA Act in two months.

One expert felt that a JIT could only be constituted after the registration of a First Information Report (FIR) and not before.

Subsequently, the JIT report would be a fact finding one and it would not be dissimilar than the findings of the apex court, he said.

According to him, a fact finding report does not focus on the quality of evidence. It simply determines the facts and presents them.

On the other hand, a JIT is traditionally constituted after the registration of an FIR, and collects evidence which is then presented as a challan or a reference.

On the basis of a fact finding report, neither the Supreme Court nor the trial court can take action against any suspect, he argued. “The court always passes orders after examining witnesses and quality of evidence.”

The accused is considered as favourite child of law and the courts accept the evidence which directly connect him with the crime. And for admissible evidence, the prosecution has to bring certain facts and witnesses on the judicial record.

So far, most of the witnesses whom JIT has summoned were related to the Hudaibya Paper Mills case.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, PM’s sons Hussain and Hassan Nawaz, his son-in-law Captain Safdar, chief executive officer of the National Bank of Pakistan Saeed Ahmed, PM’s cousin Tariq Shafi, Sharif’s family friend Javed Kayani, officials of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP),

State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), NAB and the FIA recorded statements before the JIT.

Another officer, who has headed high profile JITs in the past, is also of the view that the matter would linger on.

“Perhaps the case will be referred to an investigation agency and the apex court would monitor its progress as it did in the Haj corruption case,” he said.

He pointed out that the matter could be referred to NAB, FIA or even proceedings under Representation of People’s Act (ROPA) against the PM or other government functionaries may be initiated by the relevant tribunals.

He did not think such an exercise could be completed in a couple of weeks.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2017