Broadsheet probe empowered to dig deep into past

Published January 27, 2021
On Tuesday, the cabinet decided to constitute a one-man commission under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017. Former Supreme Court judge Azmat Saeed Sheikh will man the inquiry commission. — Photo Courtesy: SC website
On Tuesday, the cabinet decided to constitute a one-man commission under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017. Former Supreme Court judge Azmat Saeed Sheikh will man the inquiry commission. — Photo Courtesy: SC website

ISLAMABAD: The one-man commission being constituted after Tuesday’s approval by the cabinet may have a wider scope to probe not only affairs of the Broadsheet controversy, but also to ponder over why the state suffered hugely because of the half-hearted and misdirected attempts to retrieve assets parked in foreign investment havens.

An informed source privy to the development told Dawn on condition of anonymity that though the terms of reference (ToR) of the inquiry commission are yet to be determined, its scope may also encompass what has become of those individuals whose names surfaced in the UK court’s December 2018 final award on quantum in the case of asset recovery firm — Broadsheet LLC — but what transpired next is shrouded in mystery.

On Tuesday, the cabinet decided to constitute a one-man commission under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017. Former Supreme Court judge Azmat Saeed Sheikh will man the inquiry commission.

Commission will have same power of contempt as enjoyed by high courts

When constituted, which is likely in a couple of days, the commission will have the same power of contempt as enjoyed by the high court — punishing an individual for abusing, interfering or obstructing the process of the commission in any way or disobeying any order of the commission or scandalising it or attempts to bring the commission or its member into hatred, ridicule or contempt.

The commission will have the power under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, to summon and enforce the attendance of any person to examine on oath, requiring the discovery and production of any document, receiving evidence on affidavits, issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and requisitioning any public record or copy from any court.

In view of the specific nature, the federal government may by notification confer additional powers of a criminal court under CrPC to constitute special teams, or the international team to seek international cooperation from foreign countries or agencies to get information or evidence or any record.

The additional authority can also include issuance of a Letter of Rogatory or Letter of Request to the competent judicial authority in another country, seeking its assistance in the examination and recording of evidence of a witness residing abroad, besides no suit or legal proceedings lie against the commission.

The task of the fresh commission, the source said, might include probing what was the fate of efforts through which hard earned money of the state was allegedly squandered by the previous governments in discovering Surrey Palace, Swiss accounts, fake bank accounts, etc.

Initially, on Jan 19, the cabinet had formed an inquiry committee with a task to probe in 45 days the fresh revelations in the quantum award and then fix the responsibility to those who laundered money to offshore banks.

The committee was to consist of representatives from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan. But the attorney general objected to the appointment of the committee and suggested constitution of a commission to conduct an inquiry into selection and appointment of Trouvons LLC, Broadsheet and International Asset Recovery Limited (IAR) and signing of the agreement in June 2000 between the government and these companies.

The terms of reference may also include identifying the circumstances relating to cancellation of the contract with Broadsheet and IAR in October 2003, in addition to the settlement with IAR in January 2008 and the purported settlement in May 2008 with Broadsheet LLC.

True accountability

When contacted, Mohammad Akram Sheikh, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, recalled that the reports of similar commissions had been thrown to winds, yielding no results.

In view of egregious awards and judgements like Broadsheet, he suggested, the need of the hour was to hold back from indulging in further controversies, and if the cabinet was keen to hold true accountability then it should only trust parliament and constitute an evenly balanced commission of the parliamentary forum.

“I am sanguine that the vendetta is not the solution for progress and prosperity,” he said, adding that he holds Sheikh Azmat Saeed in high esteem and would suggest that the former judge should not drag him in such an exercise by not accepting the offer.

On the constitution of the commission, he said the government should concentrate more on the well-being of the people since a “witch-hunting” state can never prosper.

Likewise, senior counsel Salman Akram Raja supported the commission under the 2017 Act, saying it was the correct legal recourse.

He said the commission should look into the circumstances in which the agreement with Broadsheet was entered into, how was Broadsheet introduced to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and who advised on the terms of the agreement?

The suggestion that the targets given to Broadsheet were removed once political objectives had been met and placing the working of NAB under serious shadow should be looked into, including why was the agreement terminated?

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2021

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