• Commission given powers to investigate mega corruption cases surfaced since 1990
• PBC, SCBA express serious reservations over appointment of Azmat Saeed as head of the inquiry panel

ISLAMABAD: The government on Thursday notified terms of reference (ToR) of the Broadsheet Inquiry Commission to be headed by retired Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh, giving it powers to investigate mega corruption cases surfaced since 1990.

The commission is likely to reinvestigate scandals and cases tried in local and international courts like Surrey Palace against the Pakistan Peoples Party leadership and Hudaibiya Paper Mills and other cases mentioned by UK-based assets recovery firm Broadsheet LLC against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members.

Meanwhile, two premier bodies of law­­­yers — the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and Supreme Court Bar Asso­ciation (SCBA) — have expressed serious reservations over the appointment of former judge Azmat Saeed as head of the one-man inquiry commission.

According to one of the main clauses of ToR, the commission will “identify the incidents and cases relating to recovery efforts and legal proceedings pursued by the government of Pakistan since the year 1990 in foreign jurisdictions for recovery of unlawfully removed money or illegally acquired assets, but were closed, abandoned and/or withdrawn without any valid reason or justification resulting in colossal losses to the country”.

The notification said the inquiry commission had been tasked with investigating the menace of corruption and corrupt practices by holders of high public offices which resulted in mega scams and reported outflow of billions of dollars from Pakistan to safe havens abroad using multilayered transactions and causing irreparable economic damage to the people of Pakistan who were the rightful owners of the plundered national treasure.

“Whereas, the federal government and/or other bodies, authorities, bureaus, etc, while engaged in efforts to trace and track such unlawfully laundered national wealth reportedly procured or engaged services and entered into arrangements, agreements, etc, with different individuals, legal entities, firms, etc,” it added.

The notification said the commission would act on the issues in which the people of Pakistan were highly desirous of repatriation of the unlawfully laundered money and result-oriented accountability in accordance with the law.

It stated: “And whereas the federal government reflecting the will of the people is determined to trace and track the ill-gotten national wealth stashed abroad as well as domestically and also to seek accountability of the process through which efforts for recovery were made.

“The federal government is pleased to constitute a one-man commission comprising retired justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, under Section 3 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017.”

The commission will examine the process of selection and appointment of Trouvons LLC, Broadsheet LLC and International Asset Recovery Limited (IAR) and execution of agreements in the year 2000.

The ToR said the commission would “examine the circumstances, reasons and effect of cancellation of agreements with Broadsheet LLC and IAR in the year 2003; identify and determine the reasons and effect of settlement and payments made on behalf of Pakistan to IAR and Broadsheet LLC in the year 2008 and whether the payments made were justified; and identify the persons or officials responsible for making wrong payment of USD 1.5 million to the wrong person in the year 2008 which was not entitled to receive such payment.”

The commission will “identify as to whether the arbitration proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) and subsequent appeal before the High Court of Justice in London were conducted diligently and efficiently; determine as to whether after finalisation of the Award and appellate proceedings before the High Court at London, the process of making payments to the Claimant was legal and in accordance with the prescribed rules and procedure; and identify and fix responsibility of any person, body or authority, etc, which was guilty of gross negligence or misconduct or acted with mala fide motive or objective in respect of the above matters”.

The commission can take up any other matter related or ancillary to the matters enumerated above. In addition to the powers conferred on the commission under the Commission of Inquiry Act, the commission shall also be empowered under Section 10(b) of the Act to constitute special teams consisting of officers from the executive authorities and experts in any particular field for the purpose of assisting the commission in conducting the inquiry. The special teams shall have such power as provided under the Act.

Lawyer bodies’ reservations

In a joint statement, PBC vice chairman Khushdil Khan and SCBA president Abdul Latif Afridi observed that Azmat Saeed Sheikh was an active member of the five-judge Supreme Court bench which heard the Panama Papers leaks case against former premier Nawaz Sharif.

They said Justice Sheikh had also held the office of deputy prosecutor general, National Accountability Bureau, at the time of signing of the agreement with Broadsheet during the Gen Musharraf regime. Therefore, the former judge might not be able to maintain his neutrality while acting as head of the inquiry commission, they said, asking Justice Sheikh not to accept this appointment.

The bar leaders also expressed concern over the inordinate delay in hearing and disposal of the foreign funding case against the ruling PTI pending before the Election Commission of Pakistan for years. They demanded that the ECP decide the case without further delay.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2021

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