ISLAMABAD: The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), formed in line with the Supreme Court’s April 20 verdict in the Panamagate case, on Thursday formally started recording statements of individuals in connection with a probe into the Sharif family’s offshore assets.
Pakistani member of the International Consortium of Investigation Journalists (ICIJ) Umar Cheema was the first to appear and record his statement before the six-member JIT.
Cheema was part of the ICIJ team that unearthed the Panama scandal. According to a source, Cheema was questioned about the leaked documents, their authenticity and the process of compiling a final report by the ICIJ.
The source said the JIT had sent letters to some individuals related to the scandal directly or indirectly, requesting them to appear before it for recording statements. The requests had been dispatched by the JIT on May 15.
However, according to the source, no such letter had been sent to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or any of his family members named in the scandal. He said the JIT was preparing a detailed questionnaire for the prime minister and his sons, based on their statements in the media and the Supreme Court.
The JIT, which held its first meeting on May 8, is scheduled to submit its first fortnight report to the three-judge implementation bench of the Supreme Court on its next hearing on May 22.
Through the report, the JIT would inform the court about the progress made so far in the investigations as per the directives of the apex court.
According to the JIT’s terms of reference, devised by the Supreme Court, the probe body would find out answers to the questions, including: how the Gulf Steel Mill came into being, what led to its sale, and what happened to its liabilities; how come they reached Jeddah, Qatar and the UK; whether Hussain and Hassan Nawaz had the means in the early 1990s to possess and purchase the London flats; whether the sudden appearance of letters by Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al-Thani is a myth or a reality; who is the real and beneficial owner of the Nielsen Enterprises Ltd and Nescoll Ltd; how Hill Metal Establishment came into existence; from where the money came for Flagship Investment Ltd and other companies set up or taken over by the son of the PM; and from where the huge sums gifted by Hussain Nawaz to Nawaz Sharif came.
Earlier, the JIT decided to hire the services of a UK-based audit firm for forensic audits in order to validate the information the Sharif family had submitted about its London properties.
JIT member Bilal Rasool, who represents the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan in the six-man probe committee, has been tasked to search some suitable firm for the purpose.
It was decided that the inquiry team would only treat authenticated and certified copies of relevant record as ‘admissible evidence’. The decision was taken after the JIT members scrutinised the 17-year-old records of Hudaibya Paper Mills and other related documents, submitted by the National Accountability Bureau that were not certified.
The JIT also scrutinised the record of tax returns of Prime Minister Sharif. In addition, the members examined the asset statements filed by the prime minister and his son-in-law for the period between 2013 and 2016 by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
It was also decided that within the ongoing week, the JIT would write to the Foreign Office to contact foreign countries to obtain certified record of the Sharif family’s properties and offshore companies.