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February 26, 2021

A sordid saga

Opinion

February 26, 2021

In its chequered history, Pakistan has had an enormous share in financial scandals of unprecedented nature and magnitude. The latest dominating the media headlines is that of Broadsheet covering the periods of prime minister Nawaz Sharif and regime of dictator General Pervez Musharraf.

The main objective was perhaps not to unearth the swindled millions, but to help fabricate cases against former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and her spouse Asif Ali Zardari who had remained the defiant bulwark against dictatorship.

The first phase of this vendetta began during the two tenures of prime minister Nawaz Sharif spearheaded by his accountability chief Senator Saifur Rehman. As a consequence of it, Asif Ali Zardari had to spend more than 11 years in incarceration without a conviction by any court of law and Benazir Bhutto had to run from one court to another to defend herself against fabricated charges that ultimately ended nowhere for want of credible evidence.

The only court conviction came in the form of SSG Cotecna case by Justice Qayyum of the accountability court, which ended up as flak on the Sharif government when the Supreme Court of Pakistan passed serious strictures against Justice Qayyum for having acted unscrupulously in convicting Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari carrying out Senator Saifur Rehman’s dictation to award them maximum punishment.

The second phase, under Musharraf’s Accountability chairman General Amjad ended as an exercise in futility. The former NAB chief now says Broadsheet did nothing to bring back ‘looted’ assets. Broadsheet “did next to nothing concrete to assist NAB in receiving assets outside Pakistan through their investigations”, the former NAB chairman said.

According to General Amjad, Broadsheet failed to provide “the type of proofs of foreign assets” that Pakistan needed to successfully prosecute targeted individuals. It may be mentioned here that Amjad, who had signed the contract with Broadsheet LLC on behalf of NAB, added that the contract with the firm was signed without necessary approvals being taken from the relevant ministries.

Hundreds of pages of correspondence between NAB and American asset recovery firm Trouvons (which later set up Broadsheet LLC in the Isle of Man), various court documents, and Gen Amjad’s testimony revealed the extent of the follies, mismanagement, and miscommunication involved in the whole saga.

They have no face to show when Broadsheet is threatening the government of yet another legal case for recovery of millions of dollars. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Vice President Maryam Nawaz recently claimed that the Broadsheet scandal is a slap on the face of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and Imran Khan who never gets tired of masquerading and orchestrating his facade of anti-corruption drive.

The Musharraf regime tried to use Broadsheet against Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari but did not succeed. The PPP rightly believes General Pervez Musharraf used NAB to break the PPP’s electoral majority to form the government of his handpicked prime minister Shaukat Aziz. Now they find themselves trapped into their own fabricated dragnet.

Maryam Nawaz believes that Prime Minister Imran Khan feels endangered from PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif, and that Shahbaz and Hamza Shahbaz are being victimised to take political revenge. She claims that PM Imran Khan considers Shahbaz as his alternative and that is why he has thrown him in jail despite him being unwell. She asserts, come what may, both Shahbaz and Hamza will definitely come out of jail and take part in politics too and defeat the regime’s machinations.

Maryam believes Imran Khan is an inexperienced player and he will be left isolated in the field this year, and his advisers and ministers are reading the writing on the wall warning of the sure demise of his government.

It seems that Broadsheet is fast becoming yet another mega scandal with no recourse to recovery of the looted billions. Now in face of a serious onslaught on his government gnawing at its roots Prime Minister Imran Khan has been cornered by main opposition parties to establish a judicial commission headed by former Supreme Court Justice Azmat Saeed to head the panel investigating the “massive scale of Pakistani ruling elite’s corruption and money laundering.”

Meanwhile, the whole sordid saga has overly tainted Pakistan’s prosecution and performance of legal experts against corruption, leaving no room for relief to the country. Justice Azmat’s appointment is being considered as yet another step to cover up the Broadsheet saga of corruption. Both the PPP and the PML-N believe Justice Azmat’s appointment as controversial and not above board. The two parties believe that Justice Azmat would be serving on a “perceived” conflict of interest. He is known to be part of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) at the time when the asset recovery agreement was signed with Broadsheet. PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal has also asserted that the former SC judge was a part of the five-member bench that disqualified the then premier, Nawaz Sharif, in the Panama Papers case. His reported links with Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital’s (SKMH) board of governors appointed by Imran Khan have also been questioned by ex-PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

The crescendo of calls for Justice Azmat not to “be a part of the shady deal, which puts the country’s honour at stake”, are repeatedly being made by both parties, with particular rigour by PML-N deputy chief, Maryam Nawaz. Nevertheless, there are two views about the unbiased nature of Justice Azmat as has been explained in great detail on several TV channels.

Federal ministers like Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Khan, are crying hoarse in defending Justice Azmat’s appointment as head of judicial inquiry. These ministers are relentlessly claiming that the government did not have any “bad” intention in appointing Justice Azmat. While the government, all the way to Imran Khan, has strongly championed Justice Azmat’s so-called legal knowledge. Time will tell whether the opposition leaders can be convinced of Justice Azmat’s so-called neutrality and legal acumen.

It is national misfortune that at a time when all those who matter should have been on one page to allow investigation of the deplorable saga of shady deals and NAB’s failure to deliver by its lack of competence. Of course — at enormous cost — to the national exchequer. Indeed, as the Broadsheet imbroglio becomes murkier by the day, the sham show needs to be called off and buried with lock, stock and barrel.

Broadsheet has cost Pakistan nearly $70 million for pursuing Nawaz Sharif and the Bhuttos and in the end finding nothing. Only this week, Broadsheet paid £20,000 legal costs to the Sharif family in a lawsuit before the London High Court.

The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the UK and adviser to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto until her assassination.