ISLAMABAD: The head of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the Panama Papers case, Wajid Zia, testified before the accountability court on Tuesday that the JIT discarded a key document submitted by the Sharif family in the Supreme Court to prove the money trail of the purchase of its Avenfield Apartments despite not having any direct evidence and that the investigation team’s claim about the liabilities’ settlement of the Sharifs was on the basis of assumptions.

Discover: Profiles of JIT members

When during the cross-examination lead defence counsel of the Sharif family Advocate Khawaja Haris Ahmed asked Mr Zia, a star prosecution witness, why the JIT used the word “ostensibly” in its finding, he replied that the word was used because the investigation team did not have any direct evidence to conclusively prove that the Sharifs’ liabilities of 14 million dirhams were settled between 1978 and 1986 after the sale of 25 per cent shares of Gulf Steel Mills (GSM).

The claim of the Sharif family regarding the purchase of four apartments in Avenfield, Park Lane, was that it settled AED12 million from the sale proceeds of shares of Ahli Steel Mills (ASM) (erstwhile Gulf Steel Mills) with Qatari royals.

The JIT in the Volume III of its report on GSM rejected the claim of the Sharif family.

Wajid Zia testifies in court that JIT’s claim about liabilities settlement of Sharif family was on the basis of assumptions

Headed by Mr Zia of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the JIT comprised representatives from the Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

The report said: “Liabilities of 14 millions Dirhams were ostensibly settled between 1978 to 1986 after 25 percent share sale of erstwhile Gulf Steel Mills.”

It may be mentioned that the JIT was of the view that the Sharif family did not make an investment of AED 12 million with Qatari prince Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani and cleared the liabilities of GSM instead from that amount.

When Advocate Ahmed asked “did any witness inform you about the settlement of liabilities through shares sale proceeds”, Mr Zia replied in the negative.

Initially Mr Zia claimed that Tariq Shafi, who was operating the business of the Sharif family in the UAE, had stated that the liabilities were settled through the sale of shares. However, the defence counsel pointed out that Mr Shafi in his statement recorded before the JIT categorically stated that he did not know who and when these liabilities were cleared.

Mr Zia informed the court that since there were huge liabilities on GSM and Mr Shafi also defaulted on loans of Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) and he opened an account in 1986, therefore, the JIT presumed that he cleared the liabilities during the period between 1978 and 1986.

He went on to say that unless one cleared the liabilities, one could not open an account in the same bank.

Advocate Ahmed asked whether the JIT recorded statement of any official of BCCI, obtained any bank transaction or collected any evidence to substantiate its stance, Mr Zia frankly admitted “there is no direct evidence on record”.

Mystery of Volume X

The secrecy of the much-hyped Volume X also came under discussion in the accountability court and Mr Zia disclosed that neither any written request was made for keeping the report confidential nor was there any written order of the Supreme Court in this regard.

During arguments on the agreement of the GSM’s shares sale, Mr Zia told the court that the JIT wrote seven letters under the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) to the UAE Central Authority for International Cooperation and sought information related to the establishment and disposal of the said mills.

When Advocate Ahmed challenged him that the JIT had written a few more MLA letters, Mr Zia said that for this he had to check the record. He then informed the accountability court judge Mohammad Bashir that the relevant record was in Volume X of the JIT’s report, which had been sealed by the Supreme Court.

When Advocate Ahmed asked, “did the apex court seal it on its own or it was done on the request of JIT”, Mr Zia said: “JIT requested the Supreme Court to keep this Volume X confidential.”

On another question of the defence counsel that “did you file any application for keeping this Volume confidential”, Mr Zia said: “No, the JIT verbally requested the Supreme Court bench to keep the Volume X confidential after which all the five copies have been sealed.”

“Can you produce any written order of the Supreme Court which asked the JIT to seal the Volume X?” Advocate Ahmed further asked. Mr Zia responded that the apex court also issued verbal directions upon the JIT’s request, therefore, there was no written order in this regard.

Advocate Ahmed then asked, “do you know NAB has also obtained copy of Volume X and during the hearing of Panama Papers case, counsel for respondents also read this Volume in the open court”, Mr Zia replied that he did not recollect that.

However, after the accountability court issued a direction, Mr Zia agreed to apply for relevant record of Volume X from the Supreme Court.

Advocate Amjad Pervez, another defence counsel, suggested that instead of seeking selected record related to GSM, the JIT head should apply for the entire Volume X since in the upcoming phase of cross-examination the MLAs regarding British Virgin Island and Financial Investigation Agency of the BVI would also come under discussion.

The accountability court adjourned the proceeding till Wednesday (today).

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2018