ISLAMABAD: According to Volume II of the JIT report, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is already looking into the Sharifs’ London properties. This was disclosed to the JIT by the NAB chairman.
Legal experts feel that had the chairman told the Supreme Court about its ongoing investigation into the Mayfair apartments in the UK, the court might have refrained from forming a joint investigation team and directing it to investigate the properties and their ownership.
When the chairman appeared in front of the JIT, he told them that the investigation into the London properties was in progress when the Supreme Court admitted petitions against the prime minister for regular hearing in November last year, and that the bureau had stopped the investigation until a final verdict in these petitions.
However, when NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry appeared before the Supreme Court on February 21, he did not tell the court that the bureau was already looking into the four London flats owned by the Sharif family.
Even the JIT claimed in its report that the case might have met its logical end if this investigation had been carried out efficiently.
An excerpt from the report read: “The entire Panama [Papers] case primarily revolves around the allegations on the basis of which this investigation was authorised. Had this case been conducted in a professional manner, the issue [would have] been addressed many years ago.”
According to legal experts, since the apex court was not informed about the ongoing investigation on London properties, therefore, the court constituted a six-member investigation team to probe the matter.
Former Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) vice chairman Mohammad Ramzan Chaudhry said that had this fact been brought before the Supreme Court during the hearing of the Panama Papers case, the JIT might not have been constituted and the apex court may have simply passed some direction to NAB regarding the expeditious disposal of the investigation.
“The superior courts never interfere with investigations unless someone presents strong evidence of flaws in the process. I cannot understand why the NAB chairman did not disclose this to the apex court when he appeared for the Panama Papers hearing.”
Former deputy prosecutor general Raja Amir Abbas Hassan also endorsed this opinion.
He said that the superior courts never interrupt or change the investigation from one department to another department or constitute a JIT over an ongoing investigation.
He said that in the recent past, the apex court had ordered changes in the investigation of the case of then-chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s son.
However, this change was ordered after Arsalan Iftikhar’s lawyer convinced the bench about the mala fide intentions of NAB; subsequently, the probe was referred to a one-man commission of then-Federal Tax Ombudsman Shoaib Suddle.
It is important to remember that in 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists disclosed that the Sharif family owned four flats in Park Lane London through offshore companies.
The revelations prompted opposition parties to start a campaign against the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which eventually led to some of them filing petitions before the Supreme Court seeking investigations into the money trail of these properties.
The apex court in November 2016 admitted the petitions for regular hearing. In other words, this entire saga began because of the London apartments.
Earlier, in September 2016, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – the supreme accountability forum of parliament – had also convened a meeting where the NAB chairman, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Chairman Zafarul Haq Hijazi, former State Bank of Pakistan governor Ashraf Wathra, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General Amlish Khan, Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Nisar Mohammad, and Law Secretary Karamutullah Niazi apprised the committee about progress in the Panama Papers issue.
FBR told parliamentarians it had issued notices to those whose names appeared in the Panama Papers, including the Sharif family, adding that if any criminality surfaced, they would report it to NAB or any other law enforcement agency for further proceedings.
But the NAB chairman did not tell the PAC about the investigation into the London properties.
Sources in NAB, however, claim that Irfan Naeem Mangi, its representative on the JIT, was aware of the pending investigations and inquiries against the Sharif family, since he had served as director general operations at NAB headquarters.
According to the sources, Mangi informed the JIT about all the cases, inquiries and investigations NAB was pursuing against the Sharif family, including the one related to the London properties.
The NAB documents related to the London properties in the JIT report reveal that the former military dictator retired General Pervez Musharraf authorised the investigation into this matter on December 27, 1999, a few months after the coup against Nawaz government.
On March 3, 2000, the then- NAB chairman referred the matter to the DG FIA for investigation.
NAB’s investigation alleged that “flats were reportedly purchased through Urs Specker [who allegedly materialised the sale deal] during period from 1993 to 1996 where Mr Hussain Nawaz Sharif had been residing.”
However, the investigation in this matter remained pending until June 25, 2015 when then-NAB Lahore DG retired Major Syed Burhan Ali referred the investigation to a junior investigation officer, Haider Ali Naz. The documents in the report do not explain why this investigation was suddenly ‘reactivated’ in 2015.
A year later – after the Panama Papers had come to the fore – on June 24, 2016, NAB Additional Director Rana Mohammad Ali wrote to the NAB DG operations that “no incriminating evidence is available in the case file and from perusal of record, it appears that no investigation on the allegations have ever been conducted.” He sought further guidance from the DG office.
On November 4, 2016, three days after the Supreme Court accepted the petition against the Sharif family and its offshore companies exposed in the Panama Papers, NAB changed the investigation officer and asked a senior investigation officer, Assistant Director Mohammad Imran, to probe the matter.
He was directed to “to take over the case papers/relevant record and continue detailed investigation and submit investigation report together with the evidence and other material collected by you for the appraisal of the competent authority.”
Since the case is sub judice, therefore, NAB’s spokesman Nawazish Ali Asim did not comment on this issue. A senior NAB official, on condition of anonymity, said that the apex court only questioned the NAB chairman about the Hudaibya Papers Mills Case.
He said that Mr Chaudhry properly assisted the Supreme Court on Hudaibya case.
The JIT has recommended that since ample evidence is now available, NAB may be directed to look into the matter and complete the investigations without delay.
Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2017