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Panama Papers Case: A quick recap of legal & political battle

By Umer Tariq

The long drawn Panama Papers saga in Pakistan has finally moved towards its drop scene with the Apex Court reserving verdict in the case. As the Supreme Court took up the case back in late 2016 and the legal battle began, a far more intense battle began on the political front between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) and Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf. The Imran Khan led party has been relentless in its opposition since its defeat in 2013 general elections; which the party believes was a result of ‘rigging’ (an accusation that holds no water after the Judicial Commission constituted to probe the allegations declared that the 2013 elections were ‘organised and conducted fairly and in accordance with the law’). The ruling party has maintained that the multiple allegations by Imran Khan since 2013 are nothing but an attempt to destabilize the government.

April 2016: The Saga begins
In April 2016 when the leaked treasure trove of documents dubbed the Panama Papers blew the lid off the faces behind offshore companies operating throughout the world, the names of hundreds of Pakistanis also surfaced. Among hundreds others were the names of members of the ruling Sharif family, who were reportedly linked to as many as eight offshore companies. The revelations of Sharif family linked off-shore companies was exactly what the opposition needed; stepped up Imran Khan who jumped at the chance to mobilize workers to rally against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Feeling the pressure within a matter of days Prime Minister Sharif addressed the nation via the state television and said that he is open to the formation of a Judicial Commission to probe the allegations against his family. Couple of days later Imran Khan during the National Assembly session warned the government that his party will take to the streets if an impartial investigation is not carried out.

Prime Minister Sharif under fire
As pressure mounted on Prime Minister, merely couple of weeks after his first address the Prime Minister addressed the nation once more; this time vowing to resign if proven guilty. In less than three weeks the Prime Minister was once again forced into clearing himself from the allegations as he addressed the National Assembly to explain the ownership of the London flats owned through offshore companies revealed in the Panama Papers.

Lock down threat, proceedings begin
Fast forward to October 2016 (nearly six months after the Panama Papers first surfaced) the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf threatened to lock down the capital unless the Prime Minister resigned or presented himself for accountability. In the same month the then Chief Justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali formed a larger bench to hear multiple petitions related to the Panama Papers and the proceedings began in November.

Proceedings come to a halt
However, in December 2016, the proceedings came to a halt as the then Chief Justice was scheduled to retire. The Apex Court said that arguments from both sides would start afresh when hearing is resumed in January.

New bench and a new battle outside the Court
A new five member bench was formed and the hearings resumed. During the months of January and February as the legal battle continued in Court a much intense battle was being contested between the ruling party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. From press talks outside the Supreme Court, press conferences by government Ministers and heated debates on the dozens of news channels the entire country was fixated on the Panama Papers case. Both sides claimed to have upper hand in the legal as well as political battle. Finally on February 23, the Court reserved verdict in the case.

The April 20 verdict; ruling party celebrates
As the verdict was announced on April 20, the Prime Minister was neither given a clean chit nor he was disqualified. The final verdict was split 3-2 among the five-judge bench as the court ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT). The ruling party celebrated, the Prime Minister’s daughter who is quite fond of microblogging website Twitter posted pictures of the family and PM’s close aides in celebratory mode.

JIT’s formation
In May, the Supreme Court announced a three-judge bench to implement its judgement in the Panama Papers case. The bench consisted of the same judges who handed down the majority judgement in the Panama Papers case: Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan. Within a matter of days the Supreme Court formally constituted the JIT and appoints FIA’s Additional Director General Wajid Zia as head of the probe team. The JIT was given sixty days to complete the investigation.

JIT’s investigation & new round of allegations
As the JIT began its investigation things started to turn really sour. The government alleged certain JIT members of having connections with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, controversial stories regarding the JIT were published by a leading media group. As the JIT began calling members of the ruling family to appear before them (Prime Minister’s sons, daughter Maryam Nawaz, PM’s son in law Captain (retd) Safdar, the Prime Minister himself, Chief Minister Punjab and Ishaq Dar all appeared before the JIT) the temperature rose further. PMLN leaders including government Ministers blamed the JIT for trying to ‘embarrass’ the Sharif family and launched an all-out attack against the JIT via media. The criticism was intensified after a picture of Hussain Nawaz sitting before the JIT was leaked.

During the JIT hearings, Hussain Nawaz, the Prime Minister’s son had also filed petition before the Supreme Court, challenging the presence of two JIT members. The apex court, however dismissed the reservations raised by Hussain. The JIT also told the Supreme Court that it was facing a number of impediments and problems in its probe.
Although a number of PMLN leaders including certain Ministers were vocal in their criticism of JIT, it was PMLN senator Nihal Hashmi who went a step ahead and after threatened ‘those investigating’ Sharif family.

July 10: JIT submits report
Finally on July 10 the JIT submitted its final report to the Supreme Court and the three member bench consisting of Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan adjourned the matter until July 17.

Verdict reserved
The Supreme Court, after hearing the petitioners and respondents counsels for five consecutive days on the joint investigation team (JIT) report, reserved its judgment on Friday, July 21st.

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