ISLAMABAD: The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has declared that it will not accept the report of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing money laundering allegations against the Sharif family if investigators do not record the statement of Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani.
The party has also asked the JIT to make its proceedings public by releasing the complete audio and video record of its interrogations.
The demands were presented by four key members of the federal cabinet at a hurriedly called press conference at the Press Information Department, soon after a high-level consultative meeting was held at Prime Minister House on Saturday.
Ministers ask JIT to release complete audio, video recordings of interviews; PTI says it was responsibility of Sharifs to produce Qatari prince before probe team
Chaired by PM Sharif, the meeting was also attended by the party’s legal experts, who reviewed scenarios in anticipation of the JIT’s final report.
The news conference was addressed by Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq.
“If the former prime minister of Qatar is not made part of the investigation, the JIT report will not be acceptable [to us],” declared Khawaja Asif.
“If [the Qatari prince’s] testimony is avoided, we will be right to believe that this [JIT] report is compromised and not based on justice. We will be justified in saying that the dice have been loaded,” Mr Asif said.
But later, in response to a question, the minister made it clear that this did not mean that the PML-N would boycott Supreme Court proceedings if the JIT submitted its report without recording the statement of the Qatari prince.
Quoting the example of US author and lobbyist Mark Siegal, whose statement was recorded via video link in the Benazir Bhutto murder case, the minister suggested the JIT either visit Qatar or record his statement through video link.
“There are so many examples from the past; if it is not done now, it will be an injustice and not acceptable to us,” said Mr Asif.
“We demand that the proceedings of the JIT be made public,” he said, adding that the PML-N believed that sovereignty belonged to the people and they should know what questions the JIT members put to Sharif family members and what the answers were.
Mr Asif said these videos and audio tapes should be released without censor or editing and offered that the PML-N was ready to bear the expenses for making CDs of these proceedings, which should be broadcast on television channels.
Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said that though the country’s laws were not applicable to the Qatari prince, even then he had offered to record his statement.
He said the Qatari prince had also invited JIT members to his palace, adding that courts had the power to constitute commissions to record statements or collect evidence by visiting the place of incident.
Mr Rafique also objected to the language used by JIT members in their letters to the Qatari prince, terming it “inappropriate”.
The railways minister said the process adopted for the formation of the JIT, its composition and the selection of certain members had been controversial from day one.
He said the government had also objected to the inclusion of two members from intelligence agencies in the JIT in view of the past history of civil-military relations in the country.
Accusing the agencies and the JIT of tapping the telephones of PM House and PML-N leaders, Mr Rafique said that the JIT should tell the nation under what laws it had tapped their phones.
When asked to identify those who had hatched this conspiracy, and whether the Supreme Court or the army was also involved, the PML-N leaders blamed Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan, saying he wanted to enter power corridors via backdoor, through blackmail and by putting pressure on institutions.
When asked about the possible involvement of the military, the defence minister said they believed the army was not involved in politics.
“The army and other sensitive institutions have nothing to do with politics,” Mr Asif said, adding that the military was busy eradicating the menace of terrorism from the country and handling the situation on the borders in a professional manner.
Mr Rafique claimed that as a mature party, the PML-N did not plan any agitation, nor did it want to humiliate any institutions.
Objecting to judges’ remarks such as “godfather” and “Sicilian mafia”, Ahsan Iqbal said: “Courts do not function under godfathers and mafias”.
He also highlighted the achievements of the government and criticised Mr Khan for creating hurdles to the country’s prosperity.
Mr Rafique also quoted media reports saying that an intelligence agency was “controlling the JIT”, whereas it was supposed to be headed by the FIA.
The ministers made the PML-N’s official stance public only two days before the end of the 60-day deadline set by the Supreme Court for the JIT to submit its report.
This was the first time since the JIT’s institution in May that the top leadership of the PML-N has come out with its official stance on the issue. Earlier, a ‘B-team’ of ruling party MNAs and state ministers were tasked with keeping the matter alive in the media.
Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb, who had been in the forefront in criticising the opposition and expressing concern over the JIT’s proceedings, received the ministers at PID but did not join her cabinet colleagues on the main stage.
Separately, the PM’s Special Assistant Asif Kirmani openly accused two JIT members of being “enemies of Nawaz Sharif”.
Speaking to party workers in Islamabad on Saturday, Mr Kirmani named State Bank of Pakistan’s Amer Aziz and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan’s Bilal Rasool, saying that it was no secret where their loyalties lay.
He also alleged that Imran Khan was trying to come to power through the JIT, sarcastically observing that the PTI leader had a “romantic relationship” with the investigators.
Later on Saturday night, PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry responded to the ministers’ presser, saying that since the Qatari prince was a “defence witness”, it was the responsibility of the Sharifs to produce him before the JIT.
Talking to Dawn, he rejected the allegation that Imran Khan had hatched any “conspiracy” against the government or the Sharifs, saying that the Panama Papers had not been released by the PTI or the army; it was an international document that had already forced a number of world leaders to quit office.
He said if the PML-N had objections to the inclusion of ISI and the MI representatives in the JIT, why it had not it challenged this in court at the time. Raising these matters when the JIT had nearly completed its job was a suspect move, he said.
Responding to the announcement that the ruling party would not accept the JIT report, he said Pakistan was not a banana republic and the people of Pakistan were standing behind the JIT and the Supreme Court.
Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2017