ISLAMABAD: Returning Hajis may have the honour of returning on the same flight as some very important documents, the contents of which could make or break the Sharif family’s political careers.
This is because the Saudi government is likely to respond to a mutual legal assistance (MLA) request regarding Azizia Steel Company and Hill Metal Establishment made by the Joint Investigations Team that probed the Sharif family’s offshore assets.
Sources said on Thursday that recently an official of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior had made official communications with a member of the JIT and expressed his government’s willingness to share the requested information.
The JIT member had responded by informing the Saudi official that while the JIT had completed its investigations and submitted a report with the Supreme Court, the Saudi government response can still be addressed to the Supreme Court, which could then directly forward it to the National Accountability Bureau. The corruption watchdog is investigating the Sharifs and their assets, including the two companies in question.
The JIT had contacted six countries for mutual legal assistance during its 60-day probe into the financial affairs of the Sharif family. The probe consequently led to the disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court and the initiation of NAB proceedings against him and his children, among others.
The countries and authorities which were contacted by the JIT include the office of the attorney general of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the UK Home Office, the Saudi Interior Ministry, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Justice, the Central Authority of Switzerland, and the office of the prosecutor general of Luxemburg.
But only two of the six authorities had responded by the time the JIT report was finalised – the BVI attorney general and the UAE Justice Ministry. Their responses are part of the confidential Volume X of the JIT report.
Earlier, the SC, on the request of JIT head Wajid Zia, had announced that it would keep Volume X of the JIT report confidential, but later granted a NAB request for access to the volume.
A senior NAB official, when asked about the development, said the bureau had three more weeks to complete the reference for onward submission to an accountability court. “If NAB receives any additional evidence [from the Saudi government], it will be made part of the reference to be filed against the former PM and his sons related to Azizia Steel Company and Hill Metal Establishment,” he said.
In a related development, apparently in response to the reservations of senior PML-N leaders regarding the alleged “denial of the right to a fair trial” for the Sharifs, NAB Lahore has decided to give the Sharif family another chance to record their statements.
NAB Lahore previously served one notice and two reminders to the Sharif family as part of preparations for the pending corruption references against the Sharif family.
None of the family members have appeared before investigators so far.
Fresh notices will probably be served next week, a senior official said.
NAB spokesperson Nawazish Ali Asim did not confirm or deny anything regarding the notices, saying that the NAB combined investigation team was independent and would take its own decisions. “NAB will ensure a level playing field for everyone as laid down by the law,” he commented.
During a recent press conference in Lahore, government ministers and the Sharifs’ lawyer expressed reservations over the ongoing NAB proceedings, saying “all doors to justice had been closed for former PM Sharif”.
Meanwhile, PTI chief Imran Khan on Thursday expressed his outrage in a series of tweets.
“How can PML-N ministers claim the Sharifs will not appear before NAB? What law allows for this?” asked the populist politician.
He also said that the “Sharifs cannot choose the mode of investigation. Or have they forgotten they are the accused? The SC, not the PML-N or the Sharifs, can review its decision.”
Khan noted that the Supreme Court had not set a date of hearing for the Sharifs’ review petition in the Panamagate case, which he claimed would imply that the linked request for a stay order had been rejected.
He also criticized NAB for its ‘lax approach’ towards the Sharif family, saying, “Can anyone else accused of corruption, money laundering, assets concealment, and tax evasion imagine NAB treating them the way it is treating the Sharifs?”