Panama leaks probe: Govt may turn to parliament if consensus eludes

PM Nawaz gets all-clear from doctors, returns home on Wednesday

Irfan Ghauri April 19, 2016


The government may seek opinion from parliament if the mainstream opposition parties do not agree to an inquiry into the Panama leaks by a retired judge of the Supreme Court.

The two main opposition groups, the PPP and the PTI, have already rejected a government-proposed inquiry led by Justice (retd) Sarmad Jalal Osmany, insisting that the chief justice of Pakistan lead the investigation.

All Pakistanis named in Panama Papers face probe

“We are open to any type of investigation. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will return to Pakistan Wednesday morning. [Finance Minister] Ishaq Dar will present him a report on interactions with different stakeholders,” a cabinet member told The Express Tribune.

Before leaving for London for medical check-up, the prime minister had tasked the finance minister to engage the opposition parties in an effort to build consensus over a mode of investigation into revelations in the Panama Papers that the Sharif family were among dozens of world politicians who had secreted their wealth in offshore holdings.

Rumours swirled in Pakistani media after the premier’s departure with some even suggesting that Nawaz might prolong his stay in the UK. But his spokesperson Mussadiq Malik said the prime minister would return to Pakistan early Wednesday as doctors have given him a clean bill of health.

‘Panama leaks have made no allegations of wrongdoing against Sharif family’

Several retired judges of the Supreme Court the government had approached to lead the Panama leaks inquiry commission declined the offer. Justice (retd) Osmany acquiesced to head the panel only if all mainstream parties agreed to his name. However, the PPP and the PTI rejected outright the government’s choice.

“We are open to any type of inquiry, be it judicial commission, a retired judge-led commission or parliamentary commission,” the minister said.

PPP’s Khursheed Shah, who is also leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, had floated the idea of a parliamentary commission led by the Senate chairman, but Raza Rabbani excused himself citing ‘lack of expertise to deal with white-collar crime’.

The minister’s disclosure shows the government has budged on its earlier stance that a commission, headed by a retired judge, would investigate the Panama Papers expose. “There is no change in our stance. The PM in his address to the nation had made it clear that we will form a commission through consensus,” the minister claimed.

While the prime minister was in London, Ishaq Dar constituted teams of cabinet members to engage other parties. These teams held formal meetings with a few, but had informal contacts with almost all parties during the past one week including the PPP, MQM, PML-Q, ANP and PkMAP.

The prime minister will get feedback from the cabinet teams before taking any decision on the makeup of the commission. Sources said the government would make another attempt to develop consensus on Justice (retd) Osmany. But if it fails, then it might send the matter to parliament. In that scenario, the National Assembly speaker might be asked to seek feedback from parliamentary leaders of all the parties.

“If you can recall it took us months to evolve consensus on a judicial commission to probe the rigging allegation in the 2013 general elections. But we did it through consensus. In this matter, we will so the same,” the minister said.

Panama Leaks: PPP forms two teams to ponder strategy

A government team, headed by Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid, met Supreme Court Bar Association President Ali Zafar on Saturday. Zafar told The Express Tribune that the SCBA has already recommended that the government as well as opposition parties form a task force under the UN Convention on Corruption. “Today, the SCBA will share with the government the proposed draft of ToRs,” he added.

Asked about the SCBA’s stance if the government referred the matter to parliament, Zafar said they would welcome and support the move. However, he said the matter should be decided not later than six months.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2016.