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Panama Leaks JIT: SC sets aside Hussain’s objections

Top Story

May 30, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday rejected the plea of Hussain Nawaz, the son of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharf, seeking replacement of two members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the allegations of financial irregularities and money laundering, allegedly involving the prime minister and his family for establishing properties abroad.

A three-member special bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, heard the application of Hussain Nawaz, who had expressed reservations about the two JIT members.

Hussain Nawaz had expressed his reservations about Amer Aziz and Bilal Rasool, who represent the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), respectively, in the six-member JIT.

The court, however, reposed its confidence in the JIT and ruled that no member of the team would be replaced on mere suspicion. The court, however, ruled that everybody was respectable and one should be respected irrespective of his position whether he was a peon or the prime minister.

The court directed the JIT to proceed strictly in accordance with law and with due regard for human dignity. Expressing exasperation over objections, the SC inquired whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would appoint the JIT members for probing the PanamaLeaks case.

Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, who was heading the bench, observed that they had constituted the JIT and nominated its members keeping in view their expertise in the relevant field, hence on mere suspicion no member of the JIT would be replaced.

“We are under oath and we don’t care what the people say but the rule of law is dearest to us and nothing,” Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan remarked adding if anybody questioned the impartiality of a judicial officer, they had to see it and would examine it and would take action as well.

“But we cannot change any member on mere suspicion," Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan observed saying, “If they go by taking into account these objections, they will have to call angels to run the JIT.”

He further observed that the JIT used to submit fortnightly report before the court and if it was found that any of the JIT members was not doing his job, they would take action.

“If anytime we feel that there is no fair play in the JIT, we would then step in," Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan remarked. The judge also observed that the two JIT members who had been "targeted" by Hussain in his application were experts in white-collar crime.

Justice Ijazul Hassan, another member of the bench, observed that the JIT was tasked to probe the matter and it was collecting the evidence and required to give its findings within 60 days, hence not a single member could influence the credibility of the whole team.

He further said that the court had ordered the JIT to complete its probe within 60 days, adding that they’re working day and night without any break.

On a point raised by Khwaja Haris, counsel for Hussain Nawaz, that his client was not intimated by the JIT about the production of documents, Justice Ijazul Hassan observed that the Sharif family had submitted the whole documents before the court in the Panama case and now if Hussain Nawaz did not know as to which document was to be produced before the JIT, then good luck to Hussain Nawaz.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, another member of the bench, observed if the prime minister thought a JIT of his own choosing would probe the case, then he was surely mistaken. During the course of hearing, Khawaja Haris drew the attention of the court towards Tariq Shafi, a relative of the prime minister, who was allegedly treated by the JIT in a humiliating manner and referred to his affidavit.

Tariq Shafi, in his affidavit submitted before the apex court, had contended that during recording of his statement, the JIT treated him in the most humiliating and derogatory manner by at least two of its members; one, he said, was Amir Aziz while the other person was not known to him.

At this, the court observed that all the people were equally respected and everyone must be respected. Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan observed that the Holy Quran mandates that all human beings are respectable. The court directed the JIT to proceed strictly in accordance with law and with due regard for human dignity.

Khawaja Haris further submitted before the court that the JIT member from the SECP, Bilal Rasool, was the nephew of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Mian Azhar, a former governor of the Punjab, was originally affiliated with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz but later joined the PML-Q and then PTI.

He further said that despite being a public servant, Bilal also frequently spoke against the ruling federal government, while his wife was also a supporter of the PTI and PML-Q. Details of social media accounts of Bilal Rasool’s wife were also mentioned in the application which allegedly showed her bias as she had posted several messages in PTI’s favour but later deleted them following JIT’s formation.

“This act of hers, in fact, raised alarms in the mind of the undersigned, as her removal of posts from her social media account indicates her anxiety to conceal her loyalty, devotion and unremitting support for the PTI,” stated the application.

The learned counsel further contended that JIT member from the SBP, Amir Aziz was part of the investigation team in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case during the regime of former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf. Aziz also allegedly threatened the premier’s cousin, Tariq Shafi, while investigating him in the Panama case.

Khawaja Haris said that they were fully cooperating with the JIT, stressing that his client left as soon as he was summoned by the JIT, even though he had just arrived in the country. He, however, submitted that the JIT should maintain balance.

Earlier, during the course of proceeding, Wajid Zia, head of the JIT, informed the court that Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al-Thani was summoned to record his statement with the JIT but he had yet to respond to their letter.

“The legal value of the Qatari letter would be quashed If Hamad bin Jassim does not appear before the JIT and his letter will be dispatched to dustbin,” remarked Justice Ejaz Afzal.

He also informed the court that President of National Bank Saeed Ahmed who was summoned did not appear before the JIT.

At this, the court asked Attorney General Ashter Ausaf to ensure that the official must appear before the JIT and the order of the court must be complied with. Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan warned if the said official failed to comply with the court order, they would take notice of it.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed said if the bank official did not appear, his arrest warrant should be issued.

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