Thursday, April 20, 2017
In 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) leaked more than 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, revealing a web of off-shore companies owned by the world's financial elite, including many sitting and former members of governments around the world.
Owning off-shore companies is not illegal in many countries, but, for many, the most striking revelation from the documents was the scale of the wealth being stored in tax havens.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's children were implicated in the leak, with documents showing that they held several companies listed in the British Virgin Islands. Last year, Pakistan's Supreme Court took up the case of establishing whether or not Sharif and his family had committed any wrongdoing in not earlier declaring these assets, and indeed on whether the funds were obtained legally.
Al Jazeera takes a look at the complex case which has taken Pakistan's first family over a drawn out case in the supreme court.
“What moral right does Nawaz have to remain premier when a criminal investigation is being launched against him,” the PTI chief questioned while addressing media soon after the Supreme Court’s verdict on Panamagate case.
Nawaz survives to see another day as SC orders probe into corruption allegations Imran had refused to speak to the media earlier while leaving the courtroom after SC gave its verdict ordering a probe into corruption allegations against the premier. Drawing a comparison between an investigation launched against Uzair Baloch and the premier, Imran said, “If Nawaz is cleared after JIT’s investigation, he can return to the seat.” Paying tribute to all Supreme Court judges for the verdict, the PTI chairman said, “The verdict is historic because a sitting prime minister has never been investigated before.”
The verdict to form a JIT proves all arguments by Nawaz Sharif were lies, he added. “The letter from the Qatari prince has already been proven fake,” he added. “Judges have maintained that PM Nawaz should be disqualified,” the PTI chief maintained.
Further, Imran questioned SC’s decision to include NAB official in the JIT saying, “Today, SC said NAB has failed.” “How can all those institutions working under PM apart from ISI, and MI probe him?” he further asked. “If PTI workers had not staged a protest in the scorching heat, this verdict would not have come. I pay my tribute to my workers,” he added.
Two judges have given their verdict against the sitting prime minister. I was not expecting more from the SC, he added.
Imran question why PML-N workers were distributing sweets, “I want to ask those who are distributing sweets that what you people are happy for? Are you celebrating because Nawaz has been proven a liar in the SC?” Addressing the media, former president Asif Ali Zardari said, “Today the nation has been deceived.
“On what grounds is PML-N celebrating and distributing sweets? Are they celebrating that two senior judges called for the prime minister’s disqualification?”
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman said the party and its lawyers will go over the complete judgement and share its decision with the nation. “Those celebrating the decision should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
“I have said this a number of times, if Pakistan is not safe in the hands of Nawaz Sharif, it’s not safe in the hands of Imran Khan either,” Zadari stated.
Meanwhile, PPP Senator Aitzaz Ahsan said the decision of the two judges stands as the Supreme Courts decision. “The other three judges did not object the decision of Justice Khosa and Justice Gulzar.” He added that constituting a JIT is tantamount to giving the premier a safe exit. The prime minister has made it through the Panamagate case, but just barely. The SC on Thursday, in a 3-2 judgement on the case, ordered the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) to continue probing the allegations of financial irregularities and money laundering, while noting that at present, there is “insufficient evidence to remove Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.”
The JIT has been given two months to complete the probe into the premier and his sons Hussain and Hasan, all of whom have also been directed to appear before the JIT. The investigators will also have to present bi-weekly reports to a special bench of the Supreme Court.
The JIT will be constituted within seven days and would include representatives from the ISI, MI, FIA , SECP, State Bank and NAB.
Addressing the media after the verdict, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said, “Every party including Imran Khan, Sirajul Haq should now respect the SC verdict.”
“We will cooperate with the JIT and keep on respecting the court. The opposition kept on questioning our party and they set a court on roads as well.” “PM Nawaz is both Saadiq and Ameen. We have not spent three decades of our lives following him in vain,” he added.
Pakistan Peoples Party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari has advised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down if the Supreme Court rules against him in the Panamagate case.
Speaking with anchor Javed Chaudhry in ExpressNews show ‘Kal Tak’ on Wednesday, Zardari warned that reluctance on Sharif’s part to accept the court verdict might have an adverse impact on democracy. “Premier Nawaz has never been in the habit of accepting things which go against him,” he said. “[But] if there is agitation, it won’t be good for democracy.”
Zardari gave the example of his own party in somewhat similar circumstances. “We did not resist when the Supreme Court disqualified [then premier] Yousaf Raza Gilani. We chose another prime minister,” he said. “Nawaz should do the same. The PML-N has many MNAs. Nawaz should step down and choose one of them as his replacement,” the PPP leader added. Zardari also criticised the prime minister for not attending parliament’s sessions. “Sharif is running parliament like an emperor. He rarely visits any houses of parliament,” he said, adding that a prime minister who did not attend parliament sessions weakened democracy.
Commenting on the development work initiated by the Sharif administration, Zardari claimed all PML-N schemes were based on lies and deception. “Sharif claims everything by putting up an inauguration plaque. He even claims to be the man behind Pakistan’s nuclear programme,” he said. “The only thing the PML-N can successfully pull off is coordination with police.”
Conversely, the PPP, he added, did not ‘put its own plaque’ on many schemes. “Benazir Bhutto used to say, ‘some secrets you take to the grave’,” he said. The PPP leader added that his party was better at management and that the PML-N has “inherited a better government than we did.”
Zardari accused the federal government of ‘tunnel vision’ when it comes to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. He said the PML-N was only fixated on its own interests.
“The federation is taking controversial positions with Sindh on many issues to shore up support for the upcoming general elections,” Zardari said. “This is against the interest of Pakistan, the federation and the 18th amendment which made it possible for Sharif to become prime minister for a third time.”
Talking about rows with the centre on issues like gas and water, Zardari dispelled the impression that Sindh was being ‘rebellious’. “The province faces pressure. Everyone knows Sindh provides 67 per cent of the gas and needs only 37 per cent.
PM inaugurates Bhikki Power Plant, 717MW added to national grid
But the province receives only 18 per cent, which means you have to suspend generation at 12 power plants, which in turn necessitates load-shedding.”
He added that PPP would support the Sindh government if it decided to take over the offices of the Sui Southern Gas Company. “The centre and Sindh are already locked in confrontation. The prime minister and the federation should engage in dialogue with the Sindh chief minister to end this. If you do not let the chief minister do his job, naturally he will protest.”
The PPP leader vowed to take to the streets against the government over load shedding. “We will stage a sit-in against power outages, unemployment and inflation, and will protest till this government is dismissed.”
By Khurram SHAHZAD
Pakistan's Supreme Court is set to determine the prime minister's fate Thursday with a ruling on corruption allegations that could see him ousted from power after the Panama Papers linked his family to offshore businesses.
The highly-anticipated decision threatens to plunge Nawaz Sharif's governing party into turmoil ahead of general elections which must be held by next year, and as security and the economy improve in the militancy-plagued country.
The controversy erupted with the publication of the so-called Panama Papers last year, 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca which documented the offshore dealings of many of the world's rich and powerful.
Among the global elite implicated were three of Sharif's four children -- his daughter and presumptive political heir Maryam, and his sons Hasan and Hussein.
At the heart of the matter is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies.
Sharif's ruling PML-N party insists the wealth was acquired legally through family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.
But lawyers for Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party, argue the paper trail for the funds is non-existent, and say the onus is on Sharif to prove his relatives did not engage in money laundering.
The case has dominated headlines in Pakistan for the better part of a year, though many observers believe the court would be reluctant to directly oust Sharif.
It has repeatedly emphasised it is not conducting a criminal trial, while PML-N lawmakers told AFP that Sharif himself had not been named in the Panama Papers.
"We are hopeful the decision will come according to the law of the country, not on expectations of the opposition," provincial PML-N lawmaker Hina Butt said.
The court has taken such action before, however, holding Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in contempt in 2012 for refusing to re-open corruption investigations into then President Asif Ali Zardari, resulting in his disqualification.
- 'Change the course of history' -
But the five-member bench could also direct law enforcement agencies to carry out more detailed investigations into the allegations against Sharif, verbally censure him or his children, or clear him entirely.
"The nation is expecting some sort of judgement which will change the course of history in Pakistan," senior Supreme Court lawyer S.M. Zafar told AFP, though he said it was difficult to predict the verdict.
Regardless of the outcome, he said, the case is important for Pakistan, which ranked a lowly 116th place out of 176 countries in a corruption index released by Transparency International in January.
Political analyst Rasul Buksh Rais said: "It's going to be (a) historic decision that will push Pakistan into electoral mood in either case," adding that he did not expect disqualification.
He said a new judicial commission could be in the offing, which would allow Khan to claim moral victory for exposing corruption.
PML-N and PTI lawmakers reaffirmed to AFP late Wednesday that they would accept the court's decision.
The controversy is the latest to hit Sharif, an industrialist serving his third term as Prime Minister after the first two were interrupted by interventions from the country's powerful military.
Late Wednesday he detailed his party's infrastructure achievements in televised comments at the inauguration of a power plant, without mentioning the looming verdict.
If Sharif is ousted, the PML-N can select a new prime minister from within the party, though there may be political pressure for fresh polls.
Pakistan, which marks its 70th anniversary of independence later this year, has seen a surge in optimism in recent months.
Security has dramatically improved in the last two years, overall confidence in the economy is growing, and the military, which has ruled the country for more than half its history, appears to have reached an accommodation with Sharif's civilian government.