JIT submits Panama probe report to SC today

Published July 10, 2017
SECP Chairman Zafarul Hijazi was investigated by the Federal Investigative Agency.
SECP Chairman Zafarul Hijazi was investigated by the Federal Investigative Agency.

ISLAMABAD: The most powerful, and perhaps, most controversial joint investigation team (JIT) in the country’s history will submit its final report on alleged money laundering by the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the Supreme Court today (Monday).

Besides other evidence, the report will consist of the statements of PM Sharif; Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif; the PM’s children Hussain, Hassan and Maryam Nawaz Sharif; son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar; PM’s cousin Tariq Shafi; friend Javed Kayani and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who is the father-in-law of the PM’s younger daughter.

The government, however, has already shown its hand, vowing not to accept the investigation report in the absence of the statement of former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, a key defence witness.

Sources say that the report may not be as damaging for the ruling family as they are anticipating. “Though it won’t be pleasant, it is not the worst for the Sharif family as such,” a source confided.

According to those privy to the investigation, the case hinges on two parallel money trails for the Park Lane apartments: one based on the Rehman Malik investigation, and the other provided by Hussain Nawaz to the apex court.

FIA recommends booking SECP chief for record tampering

The Rehman Malik investigation of 1998 connected the purchase of the London properties with alleged money laundering.

In addition, the ‘forced confession’ of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar is also being used to establish a case against the Sharif family. This was why the JIT summoned almost all important characters named in both the Rehman Malik report and Mr Dar’s ‘confession’.

The JIT also summoned National Bank of Pakistan CEO Saeed Ahmed, and some officials from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), among others.

Another important character, a British-Pakistani Kashif Mehmood Qazi, was also summoned. According to Rehman Malik’s account, four bank accounts in the Qazi family’s name were used to allegedly launder the Sharifs’ money.

Mr Qazi had initially refused to testify before the JIT, citing security concerns, but sources said the investigation team had managed to convince him to file a statement.

Though sacked Federal Investigation Agency officer Inam R. Sehri also submitted a 250-page report to the JIT, which supported the money trail identified by Rehman Malik, the sources said that the JIT did not give much weight to it.

Mr Sehri also offered to become a witness against the Sharifs, but was not summoned by the investigation team, sources in the former FIA officer’s family confirmed to Dawn.

Qatari evidence

Since the JIT did not record the statement of the former Qatari prime minster, it is being assumed that the JIT will not consider the money trail provided by Hussain Nawaz, who was summoned by the JIT six times and examined for around 30 hours in all.

The leadership of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is visibly unhappy with this development, and makes no secret of its disdain for the report, which does not include the statement of Sheikh Al-Thani. This message was clearly conveyed by four key cabinet ministers at a press conference on Saturday.

The JIT reportedly wrote to Sheikh Al-Thani thrice, and the former Qatari prime minster responded in writing. Sources said there were differences over the issue of jurisdiction; the JIT wanted him to testify him inside the territorial jurisdiction of Pakistan and offered to host him in Pakistan or record his statement at the Pakistani embassy at Doha.

Sheikh Al-Thani, on the other hand, believes that since he is not subject to Pakistani law, he may be deposed by the JIT at his palace.

There is precedent for the recording of a foreign national’s statement outside Pakistani territorial jurisdiction: a JIT probing the murder of former PM Benazir Bhutto recorded the statement of US lobbyist Mark Siegel in 2009 at his residence. On the basis of this statement, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had implicated former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf in the case.

Later, an Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi recorded Mr Siegel’s second statement under Section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code via video link from the US embassy in 2015.

During hearing of the Panama Papers case at the Supreme Court, one of the judges on the implementation bench had remarked that the Qatari evidence could be discarded if Sheikh Al-Thani did not testify before the JIT.

NAB trail

The JIT also recorded the statements of three chairmen of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), including the incumbent chief. It also recorded the statements of other officials from NAB, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other institutions.

The JIT questioned the first NAB chairman, retired Lt Gen Syed Mohammad Amjad, under whom the bureau had filed three corruption references against the Sharif family.

He was also the NAB chief that pardoned Ishaq Dar, who was then an accused in the corruption references, but later turned approver.

The second NAB chairman, retired Lt Gen Munir Hafeez, was also examined by the JIT.

According to a former NAB deputy prosecutor general, the Hudaibya Paper Mills reference was adjourned sine die while Gen Hafeez was the chairman.

Incumbent NAB chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry was the last witness examined by the JIT.

Sources said Mr Chaudhry was asked why NAB did not appeal the Lahore High Court (LHC) order to quash the Hudaibya reference, and why he did not authorise a re-investigation.

In response, the NAB chief is said to have handed over a minute sheet, signed by then-prosecutor general K.K. Agha, along with his legal opinion for why the LHC order should not be appealed.

Besides the prosecutor general, an additional deputy prosecutor general who handled the case also opined against filing an appeal, Mr Chaudhry told the JIT.

The documents, handed over to the JIT by the NAB chairman, explained that since the “elder Sharif (Nawaz Sharif’s father) is now deceased”, it would be a waste of “NAB’s time and resources” and may be presumed as “victimisation”. It was “the opinion of the prosecution that this is not a fit case for an appeal,” the documents maintain.

SECP tampering

Separately, an FIA team investigating allegations of record tampering by the SECP has found its chairman, Zafarul Haq Hijazi, guilty of altering the records of Chaudhry Sugar Mills, owned by the Sharif family, and has recommended the registration of an FIR against him.

The FIA submitted the 28-page report to the apex court on Saturday, where it endorsed the JIT’s allegation of record-tampering against the SECP.

Besides the registration of a case against the chairman under Sections 466, 472 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Section 5(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1947, the FIA also recommends disciplinary proceedings against SECP Director Ali Azeem and Maheen Fatima, who heads the Internal Audit and Compliance Department.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2017


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