Panama Case: Why is Sharif family suddenly afraid of JIT?

April 20th’s judgement of the Supreme Court in a high-profile case involving Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family to have allegedly syphoned off millions of dollars from Pakistan to overseas destinations—was damming to the say the least. The judges particularly pointed out an underlying culture of corruption and nepotism within the ranks and files of government.

This being the reason, was the lingering source of concern for the court which in its judgement sounded disappointed on how systematically Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif controlled state institutions such as National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) and State Bank and Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) which under the law of the land were bound to probe him and his family following Panama Paper scandal in early 2016.

However, instead, they were hand in glove with the ruling family. Therefore, the court was obliged to order an independent investigation against Sharif family through officials of its own choice after three-member bench rejected the proposed list of the investigators which government initially had sent to the court. Many among government’s recommended list of proposed investigators were reputed to be corrupt through whom Prime Minister presumably wanted to be probed himself and his family members in an apparent attempt to go scot free. That tactic did not work which three-member panel of judges nipped it in the bud by choosing officials of known good repute for investigation.

Govt’s pressure tactics on Investigators

Typical old tactics are in work again to escape from justice in Panama Paper scandal. Familiar old tricks to scuttle the investigation process are in action which is to make independent investigators controversial and disputed figures by propagating their links with political parties. And thus build up an intense pressure on them to compel them to go soft on Sharif family in the ongoing investigation and particularly during the course of series of interrogations and cross-examinations which members of the ruling family would undergo in coming days and weeks. Therefore, they are pointing fingers at Amer Aziz, (State Bank) and Bilal Rasool ( Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan).

The main charge-sheeting against Amer Aziz is that he was part of the investigation team against Sharif family during General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime on money laundering charges while allegations against Bilal are that he is politically aligned with the Opposition parties.

Panamagate probe: Hussain Nawaz appears before JIT

I can recall my active days of reporting with a local English daily a decade ago when I used to meet Bilal Rasool in my capacity as a journalist. Son of late Dr Gulam Rasool, the former chief economist Bilal is an honest and professional person who has been one of the key driving force in the legislation against the menace of money laundering and manipulations in stock exchange business.

The investigation team is not going to pass judgement against Sharif family but it would collect evidence on the basis of which the three-member bench of the Supreme Court would hand down a final ruling on the fate of Prime Minister.

What is Fear of Sharif Family?

What has greatly alarmed the ruling family are hours-long interrogations and cross examinations of Tariq Shafi, the cousin of the Prime Minister on his dubious role in illegally transferring money abroad from Pakistan over the course of decades.

What doesn’t bode well for Sharif family is that during the course of cross-examination by all members of Joint Investigation Team comprising officials from FIA, NAB, SECP, State Bank and military run secret services, Tariq Shafi has reportedly spilled beans about his suspected role in money laundering on the behalf of Sharif family.

Next in line for cross-examinations and investigation are Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself and his son Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz. The possibility of including Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in investigation, can not be ruled out if investigators get sufficient clues from their ongoing probes and cross-examinations which may collaborate with Dar’s 2000’s confessional affidavit about his role in illegal transfer of money on the behalf of Sharif family from Pakistan to overseas destinations to set up off-shore companies.

Hussain Nawaz is likely to be interrogated on how his grandfather late Muhammad Sharif single-handedly inherited all the business to him in the Middle East and what was the source of earning with which off-shore companies were setup since the entire previous legal defense line of the Sharif family to prove the legitimacy of the sources of income has already been rejected by five-member bench of the top court in its last month’s ruling. So is likely to be probed Prime Minister himself about the sources of his incomes, his tax returns and his receiving of money from his son as a gift through banking channels which the circumstantial evidence suggest has been a pet method by the ruling elite to legalize part of the money they originally send abroad through illegal means.

Obviously the fear of an independent cross examinations and interrogations, is driving the fleet of Ministers and members of the ruling family to launch a sinister campaign against the investigators to bring them under pressure or create an unpleasant situation for them to quit their task which involves a national cause on how state institutions are going to deal with an endemic systematic menace of corruption deeply ingrained in the political fabric of Pakistan.

Javed Rana

Javed Rana

With over two decades of journalistic experience including a long stint with Al-Jazeera, Javed Rana is witness to countless monumental developments taking place in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Javed focuses on non-state armed actors, legal, political & geostrategic issues.