ISLAMABAD: The appointment of retired justice Azmat Saeed as the head of the inquiry commission on the Broadsheet scandal has become controversial as the opposition has rejected the selection while the government has defended the move.

The opposition has rejected the appointment on the grounds that Justice Saeed was part of the five-member bench of the Supreme Court which announced the verdict against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the Panama Papers case.

On the other hand, federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan have said that the government had no “bad” intention in retired Justice Saeed’s appointment.

Govt says opposition wants judge of its own choice for the purpose

The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) has demanded that an undisputed and non-controversial person be appointed as chairman of the commission and its proceedings be made public as the law on inquiry commissions had such a provision.

Recently a UK court gave a verdict against Pakistan in the Broadsheet case. Broadsheet LLC, a UK-based asset recovery firm, was engaged by NAB in 2000 to trace off-shore assets of Pakistani nationals but the agreement was cancelled in 2003. The government has recently paid $28 million to the firm in damages.

Addressing a press conference at Parliament Lodges, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said cases like Broadsheet were the reason why Pakistan had been in a state of crisis. “When institutions are established for tarnishing the image of politicians and slinging mud at them by dubbing them corrupt, the country can never smoothly function,” he added.

“These institutions have become instruments of political victimisation and those who created them and pulled their strings have been exposed,” he said.

Showing the 14-page contract signed with Broadsheet, he said, the contract was signed by Lt Gen Syed Mohammad Amjad as NAB chairman, Dr Pepper of Broadsheet, then prosecutor general of NAB Farooq Azam Khan and Tariq Fawad Malik as witness. “It was a one-sided agreement signed with a company that was created days before the signing of the agreement,” he added.

The former prime minister said Pakistan had so far paid $65 million to Broadsheet and about one-third of the amount was recently paid by the PTI government.

He under the decision made by ECNEC and the cabinet, $28m was transferred into the Pakistani High Commission’s account and Broadsheet was permitted to take that money, yet no national institution had the guts to question this.

“Had any such agreement been sponsored by a politician, it would have made headlines for days that a politician has looted a huge amount from national exchequer. He would have been in NAB’s custody for 90 days and then perpetually in jail. This matter isn’t just about corruption but about an organised effort to destroy Pakistan’s political system and taunt its politicians to discredit them”, he said.

Mr Abbasi said the PTI government went a step ahead and wanted to take commission over the payment of the remaining one-third amount as Broadsheet owner Kaveh Moussavi had repeatedly said that a representative of the government approached him for their cut for facilitating the payment.

The former PM said retired Justice Saeed was deputy prosecutor general of NAB when the agreement was signed with the Broadsheet. “This establishes a clear and undeniable conflict of interest.”

He asked how the inquiry could be impartial and transparent when the commission head had a glaring conflict of interest.

He urged retired Justice Saeed to refuse to accept the position of the inquiry commission head.

He said retired justice Saeed was also a member of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital’s (SKMH) board of governors but that was another discussion for another day.

Speaking at the press conference, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said the administration of the Parliament Lodges had banned media from covering the press conference so that the nation wouldn’t know the truth about the scandal.

She said Deputy Speaker National Assembly Qasim Suri had ordered the administration of Parliament Lodges not to let media in. “But when the media persons asked for the written order they said the instructions were issued only verbally.”

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has also rejected the formation of the inquiry commission to probe the Broadsheet issue.

PPP secretary general Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari in a statement said that the commission would misguide people of Pakistan by hurling allegations at the opposition and the previous governments.

He said the Broadsheet scandal was a serious issue and should be probed in a transparent way.

Govt defends

Talking to Dawn, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan said that there was nothing wrong in appointment of retd justice Saeed as head of the inquiry commission. “If he was [deputy] prosecutor general of NAB when Broadsheet agreement was inked, it does not mean that he was involved in decision making.”

He said retd justice Saeed had served as a member of board of governors of SKMH, but as an honorary member and he did not take any salary or perks.

Talking about Panama Papers case, the minister said: “If a judge gives any judgement in a case, it does not mean he is biased.”

Talking to the media in Karachi, Sheikh Rashid predicted that the Broadsheet fiasco would prove to

be counterproductive for the opposition. Terming it “Panama Papers II” for the PML-N, he advised the leaders of the opposition party to “wait and see.”

“I have heard that they [PML-N] have raised objections to the appointment of retd Justice Azmat Saeed as the head of the inquiry commission assigned the Broadsheet probe,” said Mr Ahmed. “What’s the logic behind that? They want the appointment of judges and head of inquiry commissions of their choice. They are known to influence judges and the judiciary. Everyone knows [the saga of] Justice Malik Qayyum. Should we appoint him as the commission head?”

Imran Ayub in Karachi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2021

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