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July 8, 2017

JIT has skipped visit to relevant foreign lands


July 8, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The Panama Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report being put down nowadays to meet the July 10 deadline is going to have certain apparent gaps in its findings as its members skipped visits to some most relevant foreign lands with regard to business trail of the Sharif family.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Britain, Dubai and three Crown dependencies of the United Kingdom were mentioned during the proceedings in the Panama case in the Supreme Court where the respondents had business in the past or right now. The visits by the JIT to all these foreign territories were necessitated for a fair, transparent and thorough investigation to search the money trail of the Sharif family. However, it ignored Saudi Arabia, Crown dependencies and Qatar for its own reasons although they were equally pertinent for the purpose of inquiry.

Because of the unending controversy between the JIT and former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, who had rendered vital evidence in favour of the Sharif family, none of its members bothered to go to this Gulf country.

However, there is no gainsaying that the JIT’s investigation, in the absence of the Qatari Shaikh’s testimony, will not be all-embracing. Since he had provided the money trail of the offshore companies and London apartments in the top court through his two letters, it is beyond comprehension how his side of the story can be overlooked by any standards of a just probe when the team was armed with the sweeping powers, unheard of in Pakistan’s history.

However, two JIT members – National Accountability Bureau (NAB) representative Irfan Naeem Mangi and Military Intelligence nominee Brig Kamran Khurshid – did pay a one-day visit to Dubai to collect or verify the record relating to the claims and assertions of the Sharif family pertaining to establishment and sale of the Dubai Steel Mill and transfer of its sale proceeds to Qatar.

While the JIT did not choose to land in Britain, it hired a law firm in London to verify the papers of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children. The firm wrote letters to various departments asking if the documents including a trust deed submitted to the Supreme Court by Maryam, Hussain and Hassan carry genuine stamps and signatures. It first contacted the lawyers of Hussain and Hassan and also sent letters to the British Commonwealth Office, Revenue and Customs and five banks seeking confirmation if the documents sent to Pakistan were real.

The investigators have also not visited the Crown dependencies like British Virgin Island (BVI) where the two offshore companies – Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited – owned by Hussain are registered, and another two such territories where the service provider of offshore companies - Minerva Trust and Corporate Services Limited and Cumber Group - are listed.

The JIT was given the powers to use the mutual assistance facility with foreign countries to access record there. The federal law ministry obliged the JIT in this connection.

Apparently, the JIT was mostly content with collection of huge stacks of record from several departments including the Federal Board of Revenue, State Bank of Pakistan, NAB, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan etc., relating to the Sharif family’s businesses. Acquisition of documents from abroad has been significantly missing, considering no visits by the JIT to the concerned foreign lands. The team’s inquest has been limited to question-answer sessions with a host of witnesses, who hardly came out with any new documents except those that some of them had already produced in the apex court. It is immensely clear that none of the Sharif family members presented anything new as the respondents have repeatedly asserted that they have already handed over to the Supreme Court what they have to prove their case.

In an investigation into an alleged white collar crime like the one assigned to the JIT, documentary evidence has extraordinary bearing to prove such offence and mere recording of statement has less significance unless someone turns approver. The Sharif family has alleged that the JIT has been looking for an approver. If the team did find one it would be a huge surprise as nothing is publicly known about this aspect so far. However, it had intimidated Javed Kayani to become approver but he had refused.

It will transpire in the JIT findings only what new documentary proof or startling evidence the investigators have found to establish any charge against the respondents. As per the Sharif family’s stand, the money trail covers mobilization of funds, their investment and re-investment and their transfer, all in foreign countries, in which Pakistan doesn’t figure anywhere.

Hussain is doing business in Saudi Arabia for many years and bought flats in London. Hassan is engaged in business in Britain for decades. Thus, both have nothing to do with any business in Pakistan.

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