Is this the beginning of a new ending? As the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is expected to submit its final report to the Panama Leaks special investigation bench tomorrow, July 10, all eyes are set on the three judges of the Panama implementation bench. Will it disqualify the prime minister by sending his case to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) or ask a National Accountability Burearu (NAB) court to probe the Sharif case further, or the head of the Panama implementation bench, Justice Ijaz Afzal Khan, may request the Chief Justice of Pakistan to assess the JIT report…
Some questions remain at the centre of the issue: Will the Panama implementation bench give the final ruling? Will a new larger bench review the case? Will the top court allow lawyers of both parties to file their input on the JIT report? Will the SC itself decide the question of PM Sharif’s disqualification under Article 62 (1) (f) of the Constitution in light of JIT’s findings?
Many controversial aspects of the JIT — like the leakage of image of Hussain Nawaz Sharif during the investigations; alleged political affiliation of two JIT members, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan’s Bilal Rasool and State Bank of Pakistan’s Amer Aziz; and two other members from intelligence agencies who collected details of the members of JIT member — remain unresolved.
“If the SC accepts JIT’s final report tomorrow, then it might issue the final order soon,” says Barrister Ali Zafar. “The SC might provide an opportunity to both parties to respond to JIT report. If the source of funds is not provided to the JIT, there is a possibility that report might go against the Sharif family.”
But, he further explains, “It will be difficult for the SC to give a clean chit to Sharifs. The SC may disqualify the PM or send the case to the NAB for further probe.”
According to Zafar, to collect all important evidence from the Qatari prince is not the responsibility of Sharifs, rather it is the job of the investigators.
Some legal experts believe the probe body may request the apex court for an extension of 15 days if the investigation is not completed within the stipulated time.
The JIT members have spent over 400 hours to go over thousands of pages of evidence submitted in the Panama case. The JIT has questioned members of the Sharif family for 91 long hours. Premier Nawaz Sharif appeared once before the JIT for three hours; his younger brother Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif appeared once for three hours; Hussain Nawaz appeared six times and for a total of 24 hours; Hassan Nawaz appeared thrice and for nine hours; and Maryam Nawaz Sharif appeared once for two and a half hours.
Will the Panama implementation bench give the final ruling? Will a new larger bench review the case?
Others that appeared before the JIT team were cousin of Sharifs, Tariq Sharif, PM’s son in law, MNA Captain (retd) Mohammad Safdar, Senator Rehman Malik, Governor State Bank of Pakistan, Saeed Ahmed, Chairman National Accountability Bureau, Qamar Zaman, the main accused in Hudaibya Paper Mills case, Javed Kiani and ex-NAB Chief Lt General (retd) Syed Amjad Naqvi.
Since September last year, the SC has heard this case for 126 days where the legal brains consumed 111 precious hours of the apex court in 35 hearings. Voluminous material consisting of more than 6,000 pages was presented before the country’s top court by all the parties.
However, it appears the JIT did not focus only on the London Flats as it devoted substantial time to the Hudaibya Paper Mills case.
Senior journalist, M. Ziauddin, says the JIT has played to the gallery with an eye on the media. “Also the issue of PM remaining in office has been pushed to the background by the PML-N by successfully manipulating the media to discredit the JIT despite the fact that at least four JIT members are obliged to the government for their jobs. The PTI has been taken for a ride and has come to regard JIT as a credible team.”
“For the first time in Pakistan the ruling family has faced tough investigations. The nation owes it to the PTI for spreading awareness among the masses about their basic rights,” says Jahangir Khan Tareen, Secretary General PTI.
The outcome of the Panama case is directly linked to the upcoming general elections in the country, he says. “We are ready to face challenges, no matter who wins this case.”
The PML-N leaders see victory for themselves in this case. “A tremendous constitutional space opened up with PM repeatedly seeking the formation of an inquiry commission under the SC in order to create transparency and endorse accountability,” says Dr Musadik Malik, PM’s spokesperson. “Albeit, repeated irregularities, leakages and acts of extra constitutional intimidation by the JIT, such as browbeating witnesses to withdraw affidavits under the threat of jail sentences, over-shadowed the PM’s commitment to institutional strengthening with mistrust, cynicism and suspicion. The Prime Minister has a firm belief in democracy and constitutional supremacy. In his eyes, the strongest verdict is that of history, and the biggest justice is that of people. People of Pakistan had spoken in 2013, and shall speak again — much louder this time”.
Whatever may be the fate of Nawaz Sharif after the JIT report, one thing is for certain: the political career of Maryam Nawaz Sharif has been launched, and that too with a bang.