ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar formally challenged the findings of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) constituted to probe allegations of money laundering before the Supreme Court on Monday, raising questions about the allegiances of investigators, their conduct, the way the evidence was collected and the report’s findings.
In his first legal attack, senior counsel Khawaja Harris Ahmed lambasted the role of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) representative retired Brig Mohammad Nauman Saeed before the three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, describing him as one of the most aggressive members of the JIT.
“It has been further revealed that [the] ISI nominee was not an officer of the agency at the time of his nomination, but a ‘source employee’ under a contract which is not recognised as legal, and reportedly neither his association with [the] ISI nor his pay is reflected in any official record,” deplored the application, asking the court to not only dismiss the report, but also reject the original petitions filed against PM Sharif by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan and others.
The prime minister’s legal team also accused the JIT of blatantly misusing the authority conferred on its members to seek Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) by engaging private firms, including a UK law firm allegedly belonging to the cousin of the JIT head Wajid Zia, without the involvement of the foreign state or government concerned, as mandated by Section 21(g) of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999.
PM’s legal team accuses ISI member of being a ‘source employee’; calls for report’s final volume to be declassified
Inferences were drawn against the prime minister though oral and documentary evidence, the objections stated, adding that neither were the accused confronted with any evidence, nor was any explanation sought from them.
All the evidence so collected could not be used against any of the respondents for any purpose, the application claimed, because it was surreptitiously procured and made part of the JIT report behind the Sharif family’s back.
Moreover, the request to withhold Volume X of the JIT’s findings was described as mala fide and in breach of the fundamental rights of the prime minister, guaranteed under Articles 4, 9, 14, 25 and 10A of the Constitution, the application argued.
During the hearing, the judges also expressed their willingness to consider making public Volume X — the final chapter of the JIT’s findings that deals with the team’s contacts with different countries and was sealed on the investigators’ request.
“We will have to look into this because transparency demands so,” Justice Khan observed.
The prime minister’s defence also highlighted the political predisposition of two JIT members: Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan’s (SECP) Bilal Rasul and State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) Amer Aziz.
Echoing the stance adopted by Hussain Nawaz in an earlier plea, the PM’s lawyer claimed that Mr Rasul’s family was associated with the PTI and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, so much so that his wife was a PML-Q nominee for a women’s seat in the 2013 elections.
Regarding Mr Aziz, the defence contended that he had acted as a specialist in different investigations relating to the Hudabiya Paper Mills under the Musharraf regime.
The appointment of National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) Irfan Naeem Mangi was also called into question, since his appointment had been called into question by an order passed by another SC bench in a separate matter.
Additional DG FIA Wajid Zia — the team leader — was accused of demonstrating partisanship by hiring ‘Quist’, the UK-based firm of his cousin, Akhtar Raja, for advice and assistance under the garb of Section 21(g) of NAO 1999, which does not envisage hiring of private firms.
The application also alleged that Mr Raja was a PTI worker in London.
An objection was also raised to the six extra days availed by the JIT, over and above the 60-day time limit imposed by the SC.
Most of the documents considered by the JIT, especially from foreign jurisdictions, had been illegally procured, the defence maintained, since none of them were attested in accordance with the law, nor did any of the documents bear the signatures of the executor.
The court has also been asked to ignore the part of the report where the NAB chairman refers to inquiries or pending investigations, since this was not part of the JIT’s mandate.
In his submissions, the finance minister also asked the SC to summarily reject the JIT’s findings against him. Investigators had alleged that he did not file income tax returns from 1981-82 to 2001-02 and was guilty of tax evasion.
The reply, moved through his counsel Dr Tariq Hassan, claimed that it had been established that all his assets and sources of income were duly declared in the tax returns, wealth statements and declarations to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the relevant years.
The reconciliation statement showed that his annual income and expenditure, together with corresponding assets or wealth for 34 years, until June 30, 2016, were fully substantiated.
All assets were justified by declared and lawful sources of income and there were no dichotomies, mis-declaration or concealment of assets or tax evasion whatsoever.
Mr Dar argued that the financial statements of Hajveri Trust and Hajveri Foundation, detailing all his donations as well as humanitarian activities, had also been enclosed to dispel any doubts of tax exemption or evasion.
He claimed that his income tax returns and wealth statements from a 23-year period, from 1985 to 2007, had already been investigated and cleared by NAB.
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2017