Panama case aimed at destabilising Sharif family, says Shehbaz Sharif after JIT appearance

  • Regarding his position whether he was summoned as accused or witness, the chief minister responded that he was asked to appear before the team as somebody "acquainted with the facts of the Panamagate."
  • "Everyone knows I have severe back pain, but I did not flee from the JIT's summons," he lashed out in an obvious reference to Pervez Musharraf

ISLAMABAD – Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif said on Saturday that the Panama case was aimed at destabilising the Sharif family, just like the attempts made by others in the past.

Talking to newsmen after his first appearance before the six-member Joint Investigation Team tasked to probe the offshore assets of ruling Sharif family, he expressed that the Sharif family faced accountability several times in the past as well.

Regarding his position whether he was summoned as accused or witness, the chief minister responded that he was asked to appear before the team as somebody “acquainted with the facts of the Panamagate.”

“Whatever questions the JIT asked, I answered them to the best of my knowledge,” he said and added that a new chapter of history had been written today after a chief minister of a province and a sitting prime minister appeared before an investigation committee in the country.

In a veiled reference, the chief minister hit out at former president Pervez Musharraf as well by saying “Everyone knows I have severe back pain, but I did not flee from the JIT’s summons, I did not go away to London, never to return, like other politicians.”

The legislator said that the Sharif family proved that they had respect for the law, unlike military rulers who usurp power on gun-point.

“This is not the first time that the Sharif family has been put to trial, people should not forget the time when our family’s Ittefaq Foundries were taken from us by force,” he said during his media talk.

He expressed that the elected political leaders abided by the constitution and law, and this was also manifested by his appearance before the JIT.

Shehbaz Sharif referred to several corruption scams including NICL, Neelum Jehlum and Rental power plants and draw a comparison with the ‘transparent’ incumbent government.

“Did we [Sharif family] embezzle funds in the construction of Metro Bus, water and power projects?” inquired Shehbaz Sharif and claimed that his family returned all the outstanding loan to the tune of approximately Rs 6 billion without seeking any reduction in terms of interest.

He went a mile more and said that during the stint of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, his father, Mian Sharif was handcuffed whereas during Musharraf era, he and his brother Nawaz Sharif were meted out the same treatment.

Earlier in the day, the six-member Joint Investigation Team formulated to probe the offshore assets of ruling Sharif family had a four-hours long session with Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif.

Shehbaz Sharif, who was summoned by the JIT after a session with premier Nawaz Sharif, reached the secretariat amid tight security accompanied by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who also drove his vehicle.

Around 2,500 personnel of Punjab Police, FC, and Rangers have been deputed in the area.

Before his arrival at the academy, Shehbaz chaired a meeting at Punjab House to discuss the impending visit to the probing committee.

The Joint Investigation Team had summoned the Shehbaz Sharif, brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today (Wednesday) at 11 A.M with all the relevant records.

Sources close to the chief minister disclosed that the JIT was likely to ask Mr Sharif questions related to the establishment of the Gulf Steel Mills by his family in the UAE and its sale.

Since Mr Sharif is one of the directors of Hudaibya Paper Mills, the JIT may also have cross-checked with him the information it has so far gathered regarding the Hudaibya reference as well as old litigation between the Paper Mills and Al-Tawfeeq Investment Co, the sources further said.

Today’s session of Punjab chief minister was the first one with the high-profile investigative team which also summoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday.

PM’s Summoning

The Joint Investigation Team summoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday and recorded his statement for almost three hours.

Talking to media outside FJA, after the session, Nawaz Sharif said that he and his family offered themselves for accountability. He added that the present process of accountability has been extended to a period beyond his birth.

“I have presented my stance before the JIT. All sources of my assets were already submitted to relevant authorities” the PM observed.

“I appeared before the investigation team as we are equally accountable to the institutions,” the PM said, adding that “today was a milestone for the rule of law.”

PM Nawaz Sharif said that soon after Panama Leaks, he had offered himself for accountability. He stressed, “The people of Pakistan need to understand that whatever is happening today has nothing to do with any corruption or embezzlement of the national exchequer, but it is the personal and private business of our family, that is being dragged”.  All conspiracies against him and his family would be foiled, he said.

He added that he held office of prime minister thrice and remained chief minister of Punjab and passed several development projects in country, but there are no charges of embezzlement in national kitty on him.

He warned that there will be a “JIT of 200 million people next year” when they [people] will select those who have worked for the development of the country.

Hussain Nawaz’s Appearance

Hussain Nawaz, elder son of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appeared before the Joint Investigation Team five times while his brother Hassan had two sessions with the team.

Talking to media while leaving the judicial academy after his second appearance, Hussain Nawaz said: “However, I decided to face the JIT and respond to all of their questions. I am confident that the investigation will prove our stance; that we have not done anything illegal,”

On his third appearance, Nawaz said that he will appear before the investigation team whenever he will be called by the JIT.

“We have the same assets as we had during tenure of former president Pervez Musharraf,” Nawaz said, adding that fake cases were registered against them in Musharraf’s tenure.

Panama Verdict

The Supreme Court of Pakistan had announced the verdict of landmark Panama case on April 20, in which it ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team to probe the offshore assets of Sharif family.

Representatives from Intra Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, State Bank of Pakistan, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and National Accountability Bureau are part of the team headed by Wajid Zia of Federal Investigation Agency.

In its judgement, the Supreme Court had also outlined the scope of the proposed JIT, which would probe how the Gulf Steel Mills in UAE came into being, what led to its sale, what happened to its liabilities, where did its sale proceeds end up, how did they reach Jeddah, Qatar and the UK, whether Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz in view of their ages at the time had the means to possess and purchase the flats, and whether the sudden appearance of the letters of Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al-Thani of the Qatar was a myth or a reality.

The court also asked how bearer shares translated into the four upscale flats in London, who was the real and beneficial owner of Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited, how did Hill Metal Establishment come into existence, where did the money for Flagship Investment Limited and other companies set up or taken over by Hassan Nawaz and where did the working capital for such companies come from and where do the huge sums running into millions gifted by Hussain Nawaz to the prime minister drop in from, Dawn News reported.