Pakistan Supreme Court establishes special bench to oversee Panamagate’s civil-military probe

Irshad Salim (MAMOSA Report) — Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday formed a special bench to implement its April 20 verdict on Panamagate ordering formation of Joint Investigation Team to probe offshore properties of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family.

Constituted by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, the three-member bench will hold its first hearing on Wednesday in the afternoon and may formally announce the JIT they had proposed in short court order based on a 545-page judgment given two weeks ago.

The same judges had signed off on the majority verdict giving neither a clean chit to the defendants (Sharif family) nor absolving them of the charges, and referred the matter for further probe by a civil-military investigative team.

Two of the judges — Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmad, who wrote the minority (dissenting) opinions in the verdict, have not been included in the special bench. Both judges opined that the PM should have been removed from his seat in the National Assembly.

It is unprecedented in Pakistan’s checkered history of civilian rule that a sitting prime minister be quizzed by officials from civil and military institutions regarding alleged offshore holdings, or on matters of ethical, moral, matters of public interest, or conflict of interests — considered a nonissue in many of the countries undergoing democratic transformation.

The premier, who remains popular in the largest province of Punjab, where his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif rules as Chief Minister (since last eight years), has denied any wrongdoing since the scandal first surfaced a year ago — when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported on a huge cache of documents from a Panamanian legal firm that had been leaked to it.

On Tuesday, Mr. Sharif launched a broadside against his political opponents, stating, “There is no comparison between a lion and a jackal. Even 100 jackals can’t defeat a single lion,” and likened them to “enemies who are hell-bent on halting progress in the country”.

He also expressed confidence that his party, PML-N, would win the next general elections.

The JIT according to court orders, shall submit biweekly reports before the special bench during the sixty-day period it has been given to file its final report. Thereafter, the apex court will determine culpability if any beyond reasonable doubt — which could take several months, according to some observers.

In the meanwhile, Pakistan Stock index KSE-100 declined for the third straight session on Tuesday pushing the benchmark down by almost 636 points before a slight recovery.

Market analysts suggested that increasing tensions in domestic politics, growing panic over the Dawn news leak, and foreign outflow due to MSCI upgrade of Pakistan’s status from frontier market to emerging market — due later this month, were main reasons behind the market decline.

Analysts last year had predicted that there would be substantial but temporal dip in Pakistan stock index benchmark during the months leading to the country’s formal induction in MSCI emerging market club.

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