Senior government aides sat down on Saturday to define the structure and purpose of a judicial inquiry into revelations in the ‘Panama Papers’ that the ruling Sharif family has offshore holdings.
But the two main opposition groups — the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf — rejected a probe by a retired judge, insisting that the chief justice of Pakistan lead the proposed inquiry commission.
The development came a day after the government somehow persuaded Justice (retd) Sarmad Jalal Osmany to head the commission. Five retired judges of the Supreme Court had refused to lead the inquiry, according to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
Probing Panama leaks: Govt engages opposition parties over commission, TORs
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar met other cabinet colleagues and the government’s legal wizards on Saturday, says an official handout issued by his ministry.
“The meeting discussed and finalised ToRs (terms of reference) of the inquiry commission being set up in pursuance of the announcement made by the prime minister to this effect,” it states. The meeting also short-listed names of professionals for inclusion in the commission.
Attendees included Law Minister Zahid Hamid, State Minister for IT Anusha Rehman Khan, Attorney General of Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf Ali, PM’s Special Assistant on Law Barrister Zafarullah Khan and PM’s Secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad.
The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Shah, opposed an inquiry by Justice Osmany. “We have respect for Justice Osmany, but his family has joined the PML-N. An inquiry led by him will not be considered impartial,” he said while talking to media at Karachi Press Club on Saturday.
Referring to a statement of Justice Osmany’s wife, Shah, who belongs to the PPP, said: “At the time of joining the PML N, she had publicly announced that her husband would also join Nawaz Sharif’s party.”
All opposition parties in parliament wanted a CJP-led probe, he said, adding that if the top judge refused to lead the inquiry, then Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani should be requested to hold a parliamentary probe into the Panama Papers claims.
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“If the CJP does not agree [to head the commission], then a parliamentary commission, led by Raza Rabbani, should be given the task. MPs from treasury and opposition benches should be included in such a commission,” he added. “Raza Rabbani will be acceptable to all political parties.”
Shah alleged that the PML-N always lavished favours on retired judges whenever they were asked to head commissions in the past. “A judge who headed a commission in the PML-N’s previous government was made President of Pakistan,” he said referring to Rafiq Tarar, who was president of the country in during the second tenure of the PML-N.
Shah said the proposed commission should be given the authority, resources and technical support to investigate the Panama Papers expose.
PTI’s central information secretary Naeemul Haque also rejected a probe led by Justice Osmany. Imran Khan’s party has said that it will not settle but for a CJP-led inquiry.
It has already threatened to stage a sit-in outside the Sharif family house in Raiwind, in Lahore. According to TV reports PTI’s vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi is likely to meet PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in an attempt to enlist his party’s support for the sit-in.
The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has endorsed the government’s decision not to request the CJP or a serving judge to hold the inquiry.
Barrister Zafarullah Khan told The Express Tribune that he and Zahid Hamid met SCBA President Ali Zafar and executive members. “The body discouraged the idea that a serving judge should lead or be a member of the commission,” he said, adding that the SCBA believed such things made judges controversial.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2016.