NAWAZ SHARIF narrowly managed to save his premiership after a Pakistan Supreme Court bench declared there was “insufficient evidence” to remove him from office but ordered the setting up of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe the graft allegations against his family.
The court ordered Sharif, 67, and his two sons — Hasan and Hussain — to appear before the JIT, which would include officials from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Military Intelligence (MI).
The JIT has been given two months to complete the probe. It will present its report before the bench after every two weeks and will complete its work in 60 days.
The five-judge bench comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan issued the landmark 547 pages judgment 57 days after concluding the hearing.
Justice Ijaz Afzal, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan wrote the majority judgment, whereas Justice Gulzar and Justice Khosa in their dissenting note wanted to remove the Prime Minister as sought by the petitioners.
The case was launched on November 3 and the court held 35 hearings before concluding the proceedings on February 23. It relates to alleged money-laundering by Sharif in 1990s when he twice served as Prime Minister to purchase assets in London.
The assets surfaced when Panama Papers investigation last year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), of which The Indian Express is a member, showed that they were managed through offshore companies owned by Sharif’s children.
The Indian Express had reported on April 4, 2016, in its first set of reports on the Panama Papers, that Hussain and Hasan Nawaz Sharif, and Mariam Safdar, the sons and daughter of Nawaz Sharif, set up at least four offshore companies in British Virgin Islands (BVI). These companies owned at least six upmarket properties in London.
Leaked documents of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca (MF), which were reviewed by The Indian Express, and subsequent inquiries revealed that the Sharif family allegedly mortgaged four of these properties to the Deutsche Bank (Suisse) SA for a loan of GBP 7 million and the Bank of Scotland part financed the purchase of two other apartments.
The case filed by various petitioners — Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, Jamaat-i-Islami emir Sirajul Haq and Sheikh Rashid Ahmed — sought disqualification of Sharif over his alleged misstatement in his address to the nation on April 5 and his speech before the National Assembly on May 16, 2016.
The petitioners had claimed that the Prime Minister lied about the investments made by his children in offshore companies, which led to the acquisition of four apartments in London’s upscale Park Lane neighbourhood.
The court also ordered that it was important to probe how money was transferred to Qatar.
In the 547-page verdict, the bench said that the NAB Chairman has failed to cooperate with the investigation, and the DG FIA has failed to curb white collar crimes, necessitating the formulation of the JIT.
Sharif’s supporters hailed the judgment as a victory of justice.
“We have been vindicated as Prime Minister had last year asked to set up a probe commission to investigate Panama leaks scandal,” said Khawaja Asif, Defence Minister and close ally of Sharif.
TV footage showed Sharif embracing his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif who is chief minister of Punjab province.
Opposition leaders termed the court’s verdict as an indictment of Sharif and demanded his resignation.
Fawad Chaudhry of PTI said Sharif should resign as all judges have accepted that money was illegally sent out of the country. “It is our victory and Sharif has been given a respite only for 60 days when the JIT would give its report,” he said.
“The court has given him just 60 days and then he will be removed as the JIT will find him guilty,” said Imran Ismael of PTI.
Earlier, the area around the Supreme Court, located in Islamabad’s Red Zone, was put on “red alert”, with around 1,500 police, Rangers and Frontier Constabulary personnel deployed for security and maintaining peace.
(With inputs from ENS, Delhi)