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May 7, 2017

Will JIT succeed in getting info from four countries?

Top Story

May 7, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The main task of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) constituted by the special Supreme Court bench to probe the decades old business dealings of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his two sons will be focused on and spread to at least four foreign countries and three Crown dependencies of the United Kingdom.

Pakistan will not figure much in the JIT inquest except the question that the prime minister received hefty amounts as gifts from his son Hussain, living abroad. His other son, Hassan, who will also face the inquiry as per the court order, is a British citizen and has his entire business in England from the day one.

As the JIT will kick-start its work to quickly complete it within the next sixty days as directed by the top court, it will become crystal clear how it will handle the gigantic assignment. However, it is believed that the JIT will first go through the available record and then question the premier and his sons. Subsequently, it will decide what to do with the dealings concerning foreign countries and Crown dependencies. The JIT’s correspondence, if any, with these foreign authorities will evidently be governed by the bilateral or international agreements they have with Pakistan. Importantly, foreign countries will see whether such communications have been addressed to them by appropriate Pakistani officials.

The answers of the prime minister, Hussain and Hassan, to the questions put by the JIT will undoubtedly be the same that they had already submitted to the five-member bench during its protracted proceedings. Even a mistaken deviation from the previous response will unquestionably spawn trouble for them.

The JIT’s work will be far away from the media blitz as it will hold closed-door deliberations and question-answer sessions with the prime minister, Hussain and Hassan. Its periodical reports may become public when they will be submitted to the special bench, if the judges decided so.

A close reading of the questions that the JIT will try to find answers shows that the countries which are relevant for the purposes of investigation include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Britain apart from the Crown dependencies like the British Virgin Island (BVI) where the two offshore companies – Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited – owned by Hussain are registered, and another two such dependencies where the service provider of offshore companies, Minerva Trust and Corporate Services Limited, and Cumber Group are registered.

Since the politics of Pakistan’s most popular politician – the prime minister – is at stake, his son Hassan will come forward to answer queries of the JIT and will not try to benefit from the facility that he is not answerable as he is a British national. At the very outset, the Sharif family had expressed its willingness to face any kind of probe to come clean on its business affair.

The first three questions from the expansive list of queries framed by the unanimous Order of the Court, signed by all the five judges of the previous bench, for the JIT relate to Dubai (the UAE). They are: how did Gulf Steel Mill come into being; what led to its sale; and what happened to its liabilities?

The next two questions -- where did its sale proceeds end up; and how did they reach Jeddah, Qatar and Britain – make it clear that they pertain to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Kingdom.

The question -- whether Hussain and Hassan in view of their tender ages had the means in the early nineties to possess and purchase the London flats – pertains to Britain where these properties are located, and to some extent Pakistan as the sources of funds used to buy these apartments will have to be told to the JIT. But the Sharif family has already told the five-judge panel that the flats were purchased from the investment made by its patriarch Mian Mohammad Sharif (late) in Qatar from the sale proceeds of the Gulf Steel of Dubai.

The next two questions -- whether sudden appearance of the letters of Qatari billionaire Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al-Thani is a myth or a reality; and how bearer shares crystallized into the flats – obviously concern the dealings in Qatar between the Qatari prince and Mian Sharif.

One question -- who, in fact, is the real and beneficial owner of Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited – concerns the correspondence in foreign haven, BVI, and partially to Pakistan because of the premier’s daughter, Maryam, being in Pakistan. The Sharif family had already informed the earlier bench that Hussain is the real and beneficial owner of these offshore companies, and Maryam has nothing to do with them.

The question -- how did Hill Metal Establishment come into existence – relates to Saudi Arabia where it was set up by the Sharif family during its agonizing banishment from Pakistan for seven years.

The following two questions -- where did the money for Flagship Investment Limited and other companies set up or taken over by Hassan come from, and where did their working capital come from – plainly pertain to Britain where such entities are registered and regulated.

The last question -- where do the huge sums running into millions gifted by Hussain to his father drop in from – mainly concerns the foreign country because the sender, the son, was abroad, and partially pertains to Pakistan because of its recipient, the prime minister. However, these huge sums of moneys were sent to Nawaz Sharif by Hussain through the official banking channels and were duly declared in his returns by the premier when they were required to be recorded in official papers.

Most transactions date back to the Seventies and the prime minister’s father when Nawaz Sharif was not even in politics. The Gulf Steel was established and sold by Mian Sharif, its liabilities were cleared, and its sale proceeds were invested by him in the Seventies when even the name of Nawaz Sharif was not heard in Pakistan’s political arena.

In a nutshell, the first seven questions are linked to Mian Sharif, the next two to offshore companies, and the last four to the businesses of Hassan to either the deceased Sharif or the secret system of offshore havens.