Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday made his maiden appearance before a joint investigation team (JIT) probing Sharif family’s offshore properties in line with the apex court’s verdict in Panamagate case.
The premier who arrived amid tight security was accompanied by his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and one of his sons. Television footage showed a seemingly-relaxed PM Nawaz clad in traditional shalwar kameez and waving at party workers before entering the building in Sector H-8/4 which has been temporarily turned into the JIT’s secretariat. However, the premier did not speak to media.
Meanwhile, police officials deployed outside the secretariat barred PML-N leaders Khawaja Asif and Ishaq Dar from entering the premises. Other political activists clashed with policemen and raised slogans against the authorities.
JIT begins interrogation:
During premier Nawaz’s first appearance before the JIT, he was asked the following questions:
1. Different positions he has taken with reference to London properties and the source of funding for the purchases
2. His role in Hudaybia Paper Mills, and documents to show until when he was a part of the board of directors or managements of other family businesses
3. His knowledge of the funds transferred through and into the accounts mentioned in Ishaq Dar’s affidavit
4. The role he played in his sons’ businesses and whether or not he provided any financial help to them
5. The JIT further questioned PM Nawaz regarding his sources of income
6. Receipts from the two sons
7. PM Nawaz’s knowledge of the sale of Gulf Steel and an explanation of his statement before the parliament on the issue of the steel mill in Jeddah
The scrutiny of PM Nawaz has gripped Pakistan, but the investigation ordered by the Supreme Court has become increasingly politicised.
Scores of PML-N supporters thronged roads near the JIT secretariat, waived their party flags and chanted slogans in favour of PM Nawaz. Banners in support of the premier were also seen hoisted around the area.
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.
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.
The prime minister and his children deny any wrongdoing. The SC ruled in April there was insufficient evidence to remove PM Nawaz from office over corruption allegations leveled by the opposition, but it ordered further investigations.
The apex court agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family’s offshore wealth after the opposition threatened protests after the leaking of the “Panama Papers”. Documents leaked from the Panama based Mossack Fonseca law firm appeared to show that PM Nawaz’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London.
PM Nawaz, whose father was a prominent industrialist, has said
his family wealth was acquired legally. A three-time prime minister, Nawaz was ousted twice in the 1990s, including in a 1999 military coup. He later lived in exile, mostly in Saudi Arabia. He swept back to power in an election in 2013. His spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Pakistan has been plagued by corruption for decades, with politicians often accusing rivals of graft. The Supreme Court has given the panel two months to investigate the family and then deliver its findings.
The six-man panel, made up of members of civilian investigative agencies and military intelligence officers, are examining three generations of Sharif family wealth. The team has accused government departments of tampering with old records, but Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday rejected such allegations, adding that the team’s claims meant the process was becoming “suspicious”, media reported.
Opinion polls suggest Sharif’s party is likely to win the next election, due next year. A senior PML-N official told Reuters the party was unlikely to call an early election if PM Nawaz was ousted by a Supreme Court ruling, and would select a new prime minister to take over until the general election.
Meanwhile, Islamabad administration has tightened security in view of the situation.
Millions of rupees have been spent by the civic authorities, especially the Capital Development Authority (CDA), on cosmetic measures such as cementing of roads and beautification of the PM’s route.
Islamabad Traffic Police (ITP) have devised a special traffic plan. Three major connecting roads in the area leading to the FJA have been closed for traffic.