JITs Adjudication: Still a Long Way to Go

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Naqeebullah Kakar
Our nascent history has rarely recorded a lesson to the domain of morality in politics. While listening to the Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan—who claims to have been at the forefront of battle against corruption—after the Supreme Court’s verdict regarding ‘Panama Papers Leaks’, whereby he demanded from Prime Minister, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to quit premiership over the pretext of ‘morality’, I recollected the remarks of Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, former Railway Minister, that he uttered after a railway incident in 2007, read as, ‘I am not responsible for the accident since I was not sitting on the driving seat’. Contrarily, South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Hong-Won tendered his resignation in 2014 after a railway incident by stating that,I offer my apology for having been unable to prevent this accident from happening and unable to properly respond to it afterwards’.
What are we come up to and where do we stand then? The contemporary volatility in national politics dates to April 3, 2016 when ‘The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)’ made 11.5 million secret documents, coming from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, available to the public. It was revealed that confidential attorney-client information in the morph of off-shore companies had links with the family of P.M Nawaz Sharif. It was only after six months that political parties filed petitions in Supreme Court of Pakistan under article 184 (3) of the constitution of 1973 against P.M Nawaz Sharif and his family by levelling graft charges.
It is pertinent to mention here that the ‘Law of evidence 1984, Chapter IX’ burdens the complainant, who wishes a Court of Law to believe in its existence to any particular fact, to produce undeniable proofs, in criminal & civil suits alike. After twenty-six hearings, the five-member Supreme Court bench issued its split verdict on April 20, 2017 calling for a six-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising seasoned officials of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA); National Accountability Bureau (NAB); Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP); State Bank of Pakistan (SBP); Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) to probe the claims. Had there been no dissenting remarks by two-judges, who decreed against the P.M Nawaz Sharif, the need for further probe would not have surfaced, but they were outnumbered. The naïve response of opposition parties after the judgment was antithetical, because they questioned the credibility & power of J.I.T officials who would probe against a sitting prime minister.
It is worth-noting that precedent—investigation against a Chief Executive by a government servant—set by Supreme Court is remarkable. In matured democracies of the world, where stronger rule of law has been established, investigating the high-ups—Head of the State & Head of the Government—for their shortcomings is a normal practice: Israel’s police investigated Benjamin Netanyahu for three hours under caution at his official residence in Jerusalem on suspicion of receiving gifts from businessmen in breach of his role as a public servant in 2017; U.S. President Richard Nixon faced possible criminal charges and an impeachment from office after the ‘Watergate scandal’, which led to his resignation in 1974; President Bill Clinton & his wife Hillary Clinton were investigated for wrongdoing in connection with a real estate investment in Arkansas; and South African President Jacob Zuma was investigated by Police for corruption charges in 2014.
The question is not whether Nawaz Sharif is strong enough to ward off the strong tides coming his way from opposition parties, rather the Joint Investigation Team’s adjudication process would meet its logical end or would it take a long way to go? The crucial stumbling block to the investigators would be the correspondence with countries neologized as ‘tax heavens—Panama, Bahamas, British Virgin Island, Seychelles, Samoa, Mauritius, Niue, Jersey and Anguilla—because of no ‘Double Taxation Agreement or Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA)’ with them. At this end, Pakistani government, in order to get information of offshore companies, wrote letters in October 2016, to the said countries but only Samoa’s government replied, perhaps, with a big ‘NO’.
The ‘Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—a multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax matters is the only forum through which information could be exchanged with all tax heavens concerning tax evaders, but to the great dismay of masses, Pakistan’s agreement with OECD will be in effect from July 2018. The JIT will have 60 days to accomplish the task ordered by Supreme Court, but it won’t be able to get the desired information from tax heavens, hence most probably, it will rely upon the information provided by the Prime Minister and his family who have been alleged to have stashed money abroad by evading legal taxes.
Analysts are of the view that the Joint Investigation Team constituted by Supreme Court is quite different from the ordinary JITs, in a sense that its scope and working jurisdiction had been set to unfold the answers to the very 13 questions asked by the Supreme Court. The readers mustn’t perceive it a cynical approach. Unequivocally, if the Supreme Court didn’t end up Panama’s issue unanimously, how would the 6-member-would-be JIT march towards its logical end?
The judgment reads in Point No. 85, ‘Despite at least 26 hearings spread over months, it has not been made clear to us whether the real owner of the properties is Respondent No.1 (Nawaz Sharif), Respondent No.6 (Maryam Safdar) or Respondent No.7 (Hussain Nawaz)? It goes on stating, ‘We have already discarded the explanation offered by Respondent No.7 (Hussain Nawaz) based on the letters of Sheikh Hamad as dubious and hard to believe’. Equally important, the JIT has been directed to probe the veracity of Sheikh’s letter that has not been taken for granted by Judges. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) will be an integral part of JIT, nonetheless, the partiality and partisanship of its Chairman was unfolded by the court, read as, ‘The aforesaid investigation and inquiry under normal circumstances should have been conducted by NAB. However, it has become quite obvious to us during these proceedings, Chairman NAB is too partial and partisan to be solely entrusted with such an important and sensitive investigation involving the Prime Minister of Pakistan and his family. Further owing to the nature and scope of investigation a broader pool of investigative expertise is required which may not be available with NAB’. What matters in this all upcoming episode would be the substantial role of ISI & MI—ending up smooth civil-military relationship or getting poles apart—and the importance of ‘Dawn Leaks’ issue can’t be neglected all around. Above all, the Supreme Court has admitted the plea of government as complainant against Imran Khan & others quite similarly on the pattern of Panama leaks case. The stage is set and these developments will harbinger the strength & weaknesses of political parties for the election of 2018, conditionally, if JIT may not head on to a blind alley!

Writer holds a MPhil in International Relations from University of Balochistan, Quetta.
DisclaimerViews expressed in this article are those of the author and Balochistan Voices not necessarily agrees with them.
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