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April 21, 2017

Panama verdict: Majority of 13 queries relate to late Mian Sharif

Top Story

April 21, 2017

Panama case seems to have ended up in a blind alley; offshore jurisdictions have
strict secrecy laws, avoid sharing information with governments, investigation bodies and courts of other countries

ISLAMABAD: The Panama case apparently entered a street with a dead end as the apex court in its verdict has ordered the formation of a JIT to investigate 13 basic questions, majority of which are either linked to the late Mian Sharif or offshore jurisdictions where secrecy laws are extremely strict.

The first seven questions are linked to the late Mian Sharif and the next two to offshore companies, while the last four concerning the businesses of Hasan Nawaz are also indirectly linked to either the deceased Sharif or the closed systems of offshore havens.

On November 11, 2016, The News had highlighted 13 questions the Sharifs were unable to answer. Majority of these are now part of the set of questions being given to the JIT for in-depth investigations.

Official documents duly verified by the concerned government agencies and communicated to Pakistan through diplomatic channels under laid down procedure is the legal requirement if a document has to be presented in a court of law from any offshore jurisdiction.

Offshore jurisdictions usually avoid sharing any information even with the governments, investigation bodies and courts of other countries. Retrieving information from such offshore havens is only possible through some international treaties and initiatives under the UN and World Bank. Another way is signing of information-sharing agreements with the countries having such jurisdictions. India has direct information sharing agreements with 13 offshore jurisdictions while Pakistan with none.

Following repeated questions from The News, the federal government has initiated a process to sign information-sharing agreements with some offshore havens but the status of these developments is unknown. In any case, negotiations for such agreements take years before they are signed.

The Sharif family could have been made bound by the Supreme Court during the proceedings to obtain and present official documents of registration of offshore companies from the British Virgin Island (BVI) government as the one who owns companies can retrieve information about his own company. But this never happened.

Governments are mostly denied such information. It is unlikely that a JIT comprising government officers would be able to press the ruling family to retrieve official documents from the BVI registrar of companies or the BVI Financial Services Commission (BVIFSC) regarding beneficial ownership of all offshore companies linked to them and that these were transferred in their name only in 2006 and that too from the Qatari royal family. 

Obtaining unavoidable documentary evidences from offshore jurisdictions without proper information sharing agreements is almost impossible. And without these documents from offshore jurisdictions, complication riddles regarding beneficial ownership of offshore companies and year of their transfer in name of Sharifs would not be resolved. 

Though some experts opined on Thursday that as in its final order, the apex court has ordered only Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his sons Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz to appear before the JIT, the prime minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz has been given some kind of clean chit. Whereas as a matter of fact, the most crucial question to be solved by the JIT pertains to Maryam Nawaz because she is alleged to be the beneficial owner of offshore companies Nielsen and Nescoll in ICIJ’s Panama Papers. In a way, she will be the centre of whole investigation process.

On the other hand, Sharifs repeatedly insist and legal experts endorse their view that they can’t be pressed to disclose any information of something done by their late father, Mian Sharif. Legally, this is a strong point and questions linked with Mian Sharif may always remain unanswered.

Questions 1 to 7: how did Gulf Steel Mill come into being; what led to its sale; what happened to its liabilities; where did its sale proceeds end up; how did they reach Jeddah, Qatar and the UK; whether the respondents No 7 and 8 in view of their tender ages had the means in the early nineties to possess and purchase the flats; whether the sudden appearance of the letters of Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani is a myth or a reality; are these directly linked with Mian Sharif according to so far submissions of lawyers of the Sharif family.

Questions 8 and 9 – how bearer shares crystallised into the flats and who, in fact, is the real and beneficial owner of M/s Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited – can only be answered if official record of incorporation of companies and transfer of their shares of BVI is shared with Pakistan.

Questions 10 to 13: how did Hill Metal Establishment come into existence; where did the money for Flagship Investment Limited and other companies set up/taken over by respondent No 8 come from; where did the Working Capital for such companies come from; and where do the huge sums running into millions gifted by respondent No 7 to respondent No 1 drop in from.

Although, the last four questions pertain to the businesses of Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz and they can provide sufficient information to JIT but still some part of these questions will be linked to late Mian Sharif, making complete disclosures impossible. For all good or bad reasons, the Panama case has been entered a street with a dead end.