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ISLAMABAD: Joint Investigation Team chief Wajid Zia during his cross-examination in the Avenfield properties reference against the ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members admitted before an accountability court on Friday that the JIT had not sent a letter of credit along with the request for mutual legal assistance (MLA) to the Ministry of Justice, the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Zia, who headed the six-member Panamagate probe team constituted on an order of the Supreme Court last year, tried to justify the content of the JIT report citing that Sharjah and Dubai were both states of the UAE when the counsel for Mr Sharif, Khawja Haris Ahmed, said the JIT had sent a ‘flawed’ request for MLA to the UAE government regarding transportation of scrap to Jeddah.

According to the JIT report, the Sharif family misstated about the transportation of scrap machinery of erstwhile Gulf Steel to Jeddah, because the Ministry of Justice of the UAE in response to the MLA request stated that no scrap machinery had been transported “from Dubai to Jeddah”.

Says contrary to members’ decision questionnaire was provided to Jeremy Freeman in advance to know about the veracity of trust deeds

Advocate Haris when asked Mr Zia if the JIT had sent letter of credit (LC) to the UAE’s Justice Ministry along with the request for MLA, he replied in the negative. The counsel then read out the LC according to which the machinery was transported from Sharjah to Jeddah and it was not scrapped but was second hand rolling machine in dismantled form. As Mr Zia tried to justify that Sharjah and Dubai were both part of the UAE, the counsel responded that it was not the same thing and insisted that the JIT did not provide proper detail to the UAE authorities.

Mr Zia, who had testified before the court on Thursday that the JIT had taken a decision in principle of not sending a questionnaire to any witness, admitted before the accountability court on Friday that the JIT with a unanimous decision had forwarded a ‘questionnaire’ to Jeremy Freeman through Quist solicitors seeking his opinion about the veracity of the two trust deeds related to Coomber, Nescol and Nelson Enterprises.

He testified that Jeremy Freeman of Freeman Box law firm of the UK, who had signed the two trust deeds as witness on Feb 4, 2006, had been sent the ‘questionnaire’ in advance to know about the veracity of the trust deeds.

Gulf Steel Mills

When the counsel for Mr Sharif asked the JIT head if he believed that the Gulf Steel Mills was ever established, Mr Zia said papers indicated that it had been established.

About shares sale agreement of the steel mills between Mr Sharif’s cousin, Tariq Shafi, and Mohammad Abdullah Kayed Ahli in 1978; he testified that the JIT did not verify the agreement’s authenticity ‘assuming’ that its content was correct. In response to another question, Mr Zia said the JIT had never contacted Mr Ahli to record his statement on this matter and to verify Mr Shafi’s version about cash payment by Mr Ahli for 25 per cent shares of the steel mills.

Another sale agreement of shares between the two persons was witnessed by Mohammad Abdul Wahab Guladari on April 14, 1980, but the JIT did not approach the witness to record his statement, Mr Zia said, adding that the JIT did try to find another witness to the agreement, Mohammad Akram, but couldn’t locate him. The JIT head admitted that his team did not contact the UAE foreign affairs ministry and a Pakistani consul, Munawar Hussain Mughal, who had attested the agreement, for verification.

When Advocate Haris pointed out that a total of 33 million dirham was paid against the sale of the Gulf Steel Mills according to an affidavit of Mr Ahli’s son Abdur Rehman, the JIT head said there were contradictions in the documents and the JIT never asked Abdur Rehman to record his statement to verify the contents of his affidavit.

Protocol for Wajid Zia

Meanwhile, the security staff inside the courtroom restricted the movement of journalists until the JIT head left. They even did not allow journalists to stand near the witness box where Mr Zia testified, contrary to the routine practice, despite the absence of sound system which made it difficult for them to properly hear the star witness.

A senior female journalist standing a few steps away from the witness box was asked to move to the opposite side, where the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sitting with his daughter, Maryam Nawaz.

Also, a guard of Mr Zia forcibly pushed a senior journalist, Saghir Chaudhry, telling him to move to the other corner when he came little closer to the witness box to take notes during the cross-examination.

Earlier, the Panamagate JIT head arrived along with escort vehicles through a special entrance, which was covered with a tent, to enter the main building while others including the former prime minister, his family members and even the federal ministers use the public gate.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2018