Joint Investigation Team summons Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif: Panamagate case

 

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been summoned by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) investigating the high-profile ‘Panamagate’ case on June 15 to question him about the scandal, the first sitting premier to appear before a team probing graft charges.

JIT chief Wajid Zia, in a letter dated Saturday, asked the prime minister to appear before the six-member probe team at 11.00 am on June 15 with all documents relevant to the case.

According to government sources, Sharif has been asked to come to the Federal Judicial Academy, temporary headquarters of the JIT in Islamabad ,at 11.00am on Thursday

The summon was issued to Sharif after he returned from his Kazakhstan visit where he attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.

Sharif, who is currently in Lahore, met with his close confidantes this morning to discuss the issue. After consulting with his aides, the prime minister has decided to honour the summons and appear before the JIT on Thursday.

PM Sharif ‘s sons, Husain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz, have already appeared before the JIT and members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) accuse the probing body of being partial and harassing PM’s sons.

On May 5, the Supreme Court set up a high-level six- member JIT to probe Sharif and his sons’ alleged corruption in the Panama Papers case. The JIT is bound to complete the probe in 60 days unless it is granted additional time.

It includes representatives from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), State Bank and National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

In its ruling the court stopped short of removing Mr Sharif from public office. Instead, it has ordered investigators drawn from civilian investigation agencies and military intelligence services to examine the money trail, look at records where available and obtain testimony from key players.

The team, in front of whom the prime minister and his children have been ordered to appear, will submit its report to the court in two months’ time.

It is for the first time that a sitting prime minister is appearing before a high-level probe team traditionally constituted to investigate high-profile criminal cases. It is not yet clear that Sharif will be questioned for once or he would be called again like his two sons.

The case stems from documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm, showing that Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryum Nawaz, and his two sons owned offshore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London. At least eight offshore companies were found to have links to the Sharif family in the documents that were leaked.

Panama Paper’s leak revealed that three of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children owned offshore companies and assets not shown on his family’s wealth statement.

The companies identified so far include three British Virgin Islands-based companies Nescoll Ltd, Nielsen Enterprises Ltd and Hangon Property Holdings Ltd, incorporated in 1993, 1994 and 2007 respectively.

Owning off-shore companies is not illegal in Pakistan, but Sharif’s political opponents allege that he had bought the properties in London by laundering money earned through corruption. Sharif argues that he is not the owner and the money is in his children’s names and he was therefore not obliged to declare the assets on tax and other disclosure documents.

A 200-page Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) investigation report in the mid-’90s, some two decades before the Panama leaks, had given details of the apartments allegedly owned by the Sharif’s and foreign bank accounts said to be worth $70m. The report also made some disclosures about the family’s alleged offshore accounts. Those assets have reportedly multiplied manifold.

Although most of the allegations of tax evasion, money laundering and default on bank loans were not new, it was the first time that Sharif and his family were linked to offshore companies and bank accounts.

It was the London-based Observer that first published the 1998 consolidated report. The newspaper maintained that it had confirmed the veracity of the charges through its own sources before publishing the explosive story. Other British newspapers followed suit. It was the first time the detail of massive wealth that Sharif and his family had amassed abroad came to the surface.

Punjab PPP President Qamar Zaman Kaira, in a press statement, said that the summoning of the PM before the JIT is a positive sign.”The prime minister has a central role in the Panama case,” Kaira noted from Lahore.

“The JIT is going to ask important questions from the PM.”

Expressing concern regarding the hearing, the PPP Punjab president said, “I hope that this time nothing similar to what the PML-N did with the Supreme Court (SC) in the past will happen again.”

“We expect that the PML-N will not resort to any extreme tactics during the JIT hearing. The last time Nawaz Sharif presented himself to the Supreme Court it [the court] was attacked,” Kaira noted.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan has asked Nawaz Sharif to resign after the JIT issued a summon the PM.

In a series of tweets posted on Sunday night, Khan congratulated the country over the investigating team’s decision to call the prime minister to appear before them.

“Congratulations to the nation as for the first time a serving PM has been brought under Rule of Law and summoned before JIT,” Khan tweeted.

In the moments after the SC’s verdict, Khan urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign for the duration of an investigation into how the Sharif family’s money was transferred to Qatar.

“I demand Nawaz Sharif resign… Until the JIT completes its probe,” “If you’re cleared within 60 days, you can return.” Khan had said.

Sharif, according to analysts, is facing a disqualification threat in Panama scandal, has decided to appear before the investigators on given date.

His rightwing Pakistan Muslim League, which won 2013 elections with a landslide majority, however has accused the investigation team of harassing and pressurizing the witnesses for “desired ” statements.

The investigators, for their part, deny the charge, and themselves accuse the government of hampering investigations.

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