ISLAMABAD: After the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on Monday submitted its anxiously-awaited report on the Sharif family’s offshore assets in the Supreme Court, panic apparently gripped the ruling camp, prompting marathon yet low-key meet-ups in the power corridors to review the report before handing it an outright rejection.
In its fourth and final report, the JIT pointed out foul play – including irregularities – in setting up and making offshore companies functional by the Sharif family in the Panamagate case.
This prompted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to hold consultative huddles with his legal wizards and political confidants to review the situation before dubbing the JIT report as a ‘piece of trash’.
Interestingly, senior PML-N leaders, who would hardly spare an opportunity to attack and ridicule the JIT, went silent soon after the JIT findings were submitted in the apex court, pointing out serious contradictions in the money trail given by the Sharif family.
Some PML-N lawmakers agreed to come in public and speak on the issue, but not before television anchors and senior journalists insisted them to share their party’s stance in public.
Hours later, the prime minister, after discussing the JIT report with Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, PM’s Special Assistant on Law Barrister Zafarullah, PML-N Chairman Raja Zafarul Haq and others, gave the go-ahead to announce official rejection of the JIT.
In disregard to the fact that the JIT was not a political entity and it was set up by the Supreme Court to probe into the Sharif family’s assets abroad, PML-N’s senior leaders slammed the report, saying it was influenced by politically-motivated reasons.
“This report is a piece of trash. We throw it into the bin,” said Ahsan Iqbal, while addressing a joint news conference with senior party colleagues Khawaja Asif, Barrister Zafarullah and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
“The JIT report is based on the political narrative of [PTI Chairman] Imran Khan,” he said.
While political and public circles lauded the JIT report for what they believed was an effort to expose financial foul play on the part of the ruling family, the government functionaries, for obvious reasons, slammed the report as a ‘pack of lies’.
“The allegations that had been declared frivolous were included in the report to target the Sharif family,” Iqbal said, insisting that there was no case of financial corruption against the prime minister.
“It would have been much better if the allegations had been levelled against [any] financial corruption by the prime minister instead of dragging him into a false and fabricated report given that the prime minister is not even named in the Panamagate. An effort has been made to malign him.”
The minister said the ruling side’s legal team is reviewing the report in detail and the legal course of action, to challenge the report, would be adopted after minutely going through the report.
“The top court ordered the JIT to get answers to 13 questions. Instead, the JIT acquired the role of a trial court and began trying the respondents.”
Barrister Zafarullah argued that four out of six JIT members were ‘inexperienced’ with no relevant expertise of legal issues.
He also saw bias on the part of the probe body alleging that the JIT was seeking ‘approvers’ against the prime minister. “The JIT is based on source reports which are not ‘credible,” he claimed.
Khawaja Asif went a step ahead to allege that the investigation report “mainly relied on Rehman Malik’s stance” and said that source reports were not admissible in any court of law.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi saw the JIT’s “attitude and behaviour as problematic”, saying the JIT harassed the respondents.
Sources in the ruling party said while planning to challenge the JIT report, the party leadership has decided to wait for the action to be adopted by the Supreme Court in its next hearing scheduled for Monday.
Requesting anonymity, a senior central office-bearer of the ruling party told The Express Tribune that the PML-N leadership would “sense the mood of the top court” in the next hearing and map out its strategy accordingly.
On whether the PM would step down, the source said the JIT’s findings have mounted the leadership’s concerns. However, no decision has so far been taken by the PM on stepping down and such an option may come under review in case the apex court rejects the Sharif family’s stance regarding the JIT.
“Previously, we thought that members of the Sharif family, including the PM’s sons and daughter, may be in trouble in the light of the JIT report, but Mian Sahib himself is also in the spotlight and that’s nightmarish [for us],” said the source.
“The possibility to step down will be taken into account depending on how the proceedings of the Panamagate case in the top court unfold further,” the source added.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, while regretting that some “political elements” were conspiring to sow the seeds of chaos in the country, said negative politics of such elements had always been rejected by people.
“Anti-people policies of the sit-in group have been fully exposed before the nation and opponents of public welfare have been defeated at every front,” the chief minister said while talking to PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi and former MNA Ali Gilani, who called on him on Monday.
Shehbaz, in a statement released by the CM house, said there was no room for negative politics or chaos in the country “because people want a solution to their problems and prosperity”.
“The economic policies followed by the PML-N have accelerated the development process [in the country],” he said, adding, “The agenda of public welfare has been forwarded as a sacred mission under the leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.”
The CM said: “People will hold the elements obstructing development and prosperity accountable, as the PML-N government will successfully continue the journey of progress and prosperity of the country.”
He said resources worth billions of rupees had been saved in different public welfare projects under the leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while in the past national resources were plundered ruthlessly.
“Contrary to it, development projects have been completed in a transparent manner in our tenure [within the given] timeframe and it has no resemblance in the history of the country,” he said.
Shehbaz said cronies of the past dictator had robbed the Bank of Punjab of billions of rupees, while during the tenure of the Pakistan Peoples Party, people were befooled in the name of energy projects and the nation was made hostage to darkness due to their corruption and criminal negligence.
Another conspiracy, he added, was hatched against development and prosperity through sit-ins and lockdowns that incurred irreparable losses to the national economy.
“All these elements have left no stone unturned to weaken the country, but the faces conspiring against public development and welfare have been fully exposed,” he said. “Now, they are again conspiring against development of the country.”
The CM said those who made hay while the sun of corruption shined should remember their past before delivering any lecture on transparency.
“Despite the ongoing trial of money laundering and offshore companies against the Sharif family, our opponents cannot blame us for corruption of even a single penny,” the CM claimed.
(With additional input from our correspondent in Lahore)