Amid the controversy surrounding the offshore assets owned by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family, the government has instead announced a broad-based, open-ended inquiry to determine wrongdoings of all Pakistanis.
The ruling party has been under immense pressure since the Panama Papers leak, which mentioned three of the premier’s children as owners of undeclared offshore companies. With the opposition piling on more pressure, the prime minister has addressed the nation twice over the issue, promising an impartial, judicial investigation.
Panama leaks probe: Govt, opposition spar over inquiry panel
Soon after PM Nawaz’s address on Friday, the government notified the terms of references (ToRs) for the proposed commission, the composition of which will be decided by the top judge of the country.
According to the law ministry, the inquiry panel will ascertain if any Pakistani citizen, including current and former public office holders, has ever been involved in financial corruption within Pakistan or abroad.
The move comes despite vociferous calls for starting the probe from the family of PM Nawaz.
The judicial commission will be set up under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956. It will examine if any Pakistani or a Pakistani-origin individual has been involved with offshore businesses in Panama or any other country. It will also establish if any serving or former public office holders or their families got their loans written off from banks or transferred money abroad by violating Pakistani laws.
The panel will have powers under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 to summon and enforce the presence of any person, including tax experts or accountants, and question them on oath. It can ask for producing any document, receive evidence on affidavits, examine witnesses and requisition any record or copy from any court or office.
Opposition sees ‘victory’ in PM’s move, rejects ToRs
The commission will have the authority to require any person to furnish information on matters considered important by the panel for the inquiry. Any officer, but not below the rank of a gazetted officer, could be authorised by the commission president to enter any premises to check or seize any document related to the investigation.
The panel will be assisted by all the authorities concerned of the federal and provincial governments while its proceedings shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings, within the meaning of sections 193 and 228 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860. The cabinet division will provide secretarial assistance to the commission.
The yet-to-be-announced commission will start the inquiry at a place and on a date to be fixed by itself and shall submit its report to the federal government.
The massive trove of documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca has so far named around 220 Pakistanis, including several politicians and businessmen, for amassing assets and accounts in international tax havens.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2016.
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