‘Panama Papers report aimed at ousting PM Sharif’

Pakistan’s former Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president and prominent human rights activist Asma Jahangir on Friday said the report by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on Panama Papers should be left to the Supreme Court to decide upon as it contains very sensitive legal issues.

She said the JIT report was based on investigation and investigations were generally challenged in courts. “JIT is not the same as the Supreme Court,” she said.

Jahangir said the JIT report was leaked and now the media was carrying out a trial based on leaked documents.

She said the Supreme Court can be shut down if the media continues to play the role of the judiciary. The JIT submitted its final report to the apex court on July 10. It was formed on May 5 in light of the Supreme Court’s April 20 judgment and was tasked to ascertain the money trail of the Sharif family.

In an interview with DW, Asma Jahangir, said the JIT report has put PM Sharif in a difficult position, asserting that it is meant for ‘regime change’ and not ‘accountability’ — a view contested by others, and some say they expect long drawn legal arguments from both sides in the court until final verdict.

DW: How damaging is the JIT’s report for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – legally as well as politically?

Asma Jahangir: It is a report put forward by an investigating agency, and its veracity still needs to be proven. But politically it has damaged the prime minister immensely because the report has unearthed some new factors which were not there in the earlier investigations.

You did raise some concerns about the formation of the JIT. What were your major objections?

The concerns are not just about whether Article 184 (3) of the Pakistani constitution was applicable in Sharif’s Panama leaks case. [Article 184 (3) of Pakistan’s 1973 Constitution allows the apex court to make an order on a “question of public importance with reference to the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights”].

The “memogate” was the first instance when the court set up a commission. [Hussain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the US, allegedly commissioned in 2011 a middleman to send an anonymous letter to the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, Admiral Mike Mullen, asking for help to prevent a putsch against then President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan]. The second such commission was established after the carnage in Quetta last year.

The question is whether the judiciary should start the investigation from top or from bottom? Then there is an issue about the formation of the JIT, which includes members of the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Military Intelligence (MI) agencies. This hadn’t happened before in a civilian case and had been restricted to terrorism-related cases. There are concerns about leakages from the JIT meetings and the fact that there is a JIT member who the Supreme Court had itself ordered to be removed from the National Accountability Bureau.

In any case, it is an investigation report, not a court verdict.

Some analysts say the main issue regarding Panama Papers in Pakistan is political; it is actually not about corruption but to cut Prime Minister Sharif to his size, as he has been trying to assert his supremacy against the military. What is your take on it?

I agree with it to an extent because if the Panama petitioners were really asking for accountability then they should have included all names mentioned in Panama Papers. A sitting judge’s name is also in the leaks but there has never been a demand to look into it. So it appears that the petitioners want a regime change. It is not about accountability.

The question of accountability, in my opinion, should be that when Nawaz Sharif was close to the military establishment, why were the courts so lenient with him? Now when Sharif is no longer close to that establishment, they are acting against him. This is my concern: how has the judiciary become so independent all of a sudden? Maybe it is not a relevant question, but it is something that people will be asking.

You can’t see this Panama Papers case in isolation. There is a history of opposition demonstrations [by Imran Khan‘s PTI party] behind it and it is apparent that the strings are being moved from somewhere.

What could be the impact of a potential Sharif ouster, or his resignation, on Pakistan’s democratic setup?

It would be very difficult for PM Sharif to resign now because resignation at this particular point would mean he is admitting guilt. Had the resignation come before the JIT investigations, it would have been looked at in a different perspective.

The JIT has recommended to the Supreme Court that there should be a reference against Sharif. It is a charge sheet, and it is now up to the apex court whether they want to hand it over to the National Accountability Bureau or not. It could even lead to Sharif’s and his children’s imprisonment.

The interview was conducted by Shamil Shams of DW.

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