ISLAMABAD: The Panamagate joint investigation team (JIT) has also summoned Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, alleging that the government machinery is being misused to hamper its probe into the ruling family’s offshore assets.
Sources in the CM Secretariat have confirmed to The Express Tribune that Shehbaz has received summons from the JIT to appear before it at 11am on June 17 to record his statement.
The JIT has already summoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who will appear before it on Thursday (tomorrow) at Islamabad’s Judicial Academy – which is temporarily turned into the JIT’s secretariat.
The Punjab CM was director of Hudabiya Paper Mills (HPM) in 1999. He was the one who had made settlement with London-based Al-Towfeek Company the same year.
According to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) documents – a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune – Shehbaz and his son Hamza were accused in the 17-year-old HPM scam.
Seventeen years ago, the NAB had claimed that the Sharif family had received over Rs1 billion ‘through illegal and fraudulent means’ and that they were liable to be tried under anti-corruption laws.
“There was an unexplained investment of Rs642.743m appearing in books of the HPM as share deposit money. The same belonged to the directors/shareholders and beneficial owners of the company which they had fraudulently amassed under the garb of foreign equity investment,” said the NAB final reference.
It said the company in 1999 settled its loan with Al-Towfeek Company for Investment Funds by making a payment of $8.7 million but the source of this payment appeared to be doubtful.
In 2014, the Lahore High Court quashed the HPM reference against the Sharif family. The NAB had not challenged the LHC decision in the Supreme Court. However, the apex court in its April 20 verdict in the Panamagate case allowed the JIT to probe all such material against the family.
JIT complains against five government departments
Meanwhile, the JIT has alleged that the government machinery is being misused to hamper and hinder its investigation and five government departments are trying to influence its functioning.
The five departments the probe panel has complained against include the Ministry of Law, the NAB, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
The JIT’s head Wajid Zia has submitted in the apex court an application, in which the JIT has highlighted the difficulties the six-member panel is facing in carrying out its interrogation.
“The JIT is of the considered unanimous view that the government machinery is being misused to hamper and hinder the investigation which is presently undertaken by the JIT upon the orders of the Supreme Court…
“…Unless and until coercive orders are passed the situation would not be salvaged. Also that the vilification campaign has put the lives of JIT members and families in perpetual danger,” says the seven-page JIT’s application, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune.
The application says SECP Chairman Zafar-ul-Haq Hijazi was instrumental in closing the investigation of money laundering case against Chaudhry Sugar Mills Limited. This investigation was commenced in the year 2011 but was closed in year 2016 in back date with effect from January 8, 2013 at the sole behest of the SECP’s chairman.
“The act of backdated closure of investigation apart from being patently mala fide is also a criminal act with a view to facilitate the respondents [Sharif family] against whom the present investigation is being conducted,” it says.
The application states that names of witnesses who have divulged the backdated closure cannot be disclosed otherwise their safety and security would be fundamentally compromised and their lives and that of their respective families would be put under serious jeopardy.
Likewise, the JIT has also alleged that the SECP chairman has restricted the officer to collect the record of Sharif family’s companies.
The orders of the SECP chairman to tamper the record and close the Chaudhry Sugar Mills investigation of money laundering in back date was executed by one Ali Azeem Akram, the SECP’s executive director.
Interestingly, the same officer was nominated as the JIT member by the SECP chairman with clear intent to subvert the investigation of the panel. Similarly, it says, one can appreciate as to the backdrop in which WhatsApp call controversy was stirred at the behest of the SECP chief.
The application says one witness from the SECP – whose name has not been disclosed due to security reasons – confirmed before the JIT that the SECP chairman did not allow him to check the Chaudhry Sugar Mills record.
The panel also questions the role of the IB and says it hacked the Facebook account of Bilal Rasul, a JIT member, representing the SECP. “This is a blatant misuse of the government machinery so as to support the Sharif family,” it claims.
On May 24, the IB officials were found loitering near the residence of one of the JIT members. The same officials also visited his residence and interrogated the house keeper, causing fear and insecurity amongst the family members of the JIT member.
The application also questions the NAB role and claims that it is employing an underhand strategy. The NAB, on April 25, issued a show-cause notice to a JIT member, Irfan Naeem Mangi, over his induction in the department in 2004.
He requested the authorities to adjourn the proceeding till completion of the inquiry. However, on May 31, the NAB directed him to submit a reply to the show-cause notice within 15 days.
“The show-cause notice by NAB authorities is likely to distract Mangi in his performance as an investigator in the present JIT and overawe him so that he is coerced and harassed,” it says.
The inquiry penal also questions conduct of the law ministry, which, it says, is delaying in giving response to the JIT’s correspondences. The JIT requisitioned the income and wealth record and tax returns of Sharif family members from 1985 till date. However, the FBR only provided the tax records of five years.
“This is a prime illustration as to how the government machinery is being employed so as to attempt to frustrate the JIT and its proceedings, which smacks malice and mala fides in order to selectively omit such records which could undermine the respondents [Sharif family members] case.”
The application states that correspondences between the JIT and witnesses are being leaked to the media to undermine and scandalise the investigation process. “Witnesses are being tortured by or [at the] behest of the Sharif family, and confidential letters [are] being leaked,” it claims.
According to the application, Ittefaq Group’s CEO Haroon Pasha directed Tariq Shafi, the PM’s cousin, to come to the PM Secretariat prior to appearing before the JIT.
“Mr Pasha specifically directed Shafi that he needed to state before the JIT what he would be told at the PM’s house. This fact was corroborated by Tariq Shafi before the JIT in the subsequent sessions,” it says.
The PM House, and its sanctity, is being undermined so as to coercively influence witnesses. Likewise, a copy of the PM’s summons was leaked to select media on June 11.
“Leak of such information in public domain is likely to accentuate security at the time of the appearance of witnesses before the JIT,” it says.
The JIT request the SC to take action against officers/officials of the concerned departments, who publically comment in the media in relation to the JIT and the court. “The JIT has been permitted to conduct investigation in a fair and transparent manner without any hindrance or inference from any quarter,” it adds.
Additional Attorney General Waqar Rana will submit response of five departments before the bench today (Wednesday)
PM prepares for his appearance
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his family members and aides have had long consultations in view of the premier’s appearance before the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) tomorrow (Thursday) as the party tries to plug all possible loopholes in the ruling family’s version on their foreign properties.
The PM held marathon meetings with his team before leaving for Saudi Arabia on Monday and also immediately after landing back to the country, according to sources.
The party leadership and other members of the Sharif family are minutely reviewing statements recorded before the JIT by the PM’s two sons – Hussain and Hassan – and the premier’s cousin Tariq Shafi.
Reportedly, Sharifs’ legal wizards have advised them to focus ‘intensely’ on the versions of the family members shared with the inquiry panel, which, the PML-N leadership’s legal team believes, is the key to effective defence in the case, said the sources.
“It’s important that all the versions match,” a PML-N legislator in direct knowledge of the matter shared with The Express Tribune, while requesting anonymity.
“There is no room for any kind of error – anomalies, deviations or contradictions are simply unaffordable,” he said, adding that Premier Sharif has himself exchanged verbal notes with his sons, cousins and brother Shehbaz Sharif ‘for hours’ in the last couple of days.
Meanwhile, refusal of Qatari prince Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber al Thani to come to Pakistan and appear before the JIT has added to the ruling camp’s worries.
The Qatari prince’s presumed letters were presented by the ruling family’s counsels in the apex court during the Panamagate case hearing to establish money trail over the London properties of the Sharifs. The prince has, however, conveyed his refusal for to appear before the inquiry panel.
The ruling party has been trying to convince the prince to record his statement before the JIT through video link but chances of his appearance are slim. The JIT has, however, not summoned the Qatari royalty so far.
“Our problems would multiply when the JIT proceeds to summon him. That would land us in a highly embarrassing position, not only legally but also politically,” sources in the PML-N said. In such a situation, the ruling lot would seek more time from the SC and the JIT in order to win Qatar royalty’s favours.
Banner supporting PM emerge near JIT secretariat
Meanwhile, banners in support of Premier Nawaz Sharif have surfaced near the Judicial Academy where the PM is scheduled to appear in connection with the JIT’s investigation on Thursday.
The banners emerged in the red-zone area of the federal capital, especially in the area surrounding the academy, reported Express News. The banners are inscribed with slogans and messages in support of the premier, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
[WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM SARDAR SIKANDER IN ISLAMABAD]