Confounding the confusion

Govt must ensure full transparency so that nothing is allowed to be obscured at the altar of political expediency

M Ziauddin February 12, 2021
The writer served as executive editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

Most media regulars by now know all about the origins of the Broadsheet LLC scandal which certainly sounds stranger than fiction. One does not, therefore, see any reason for setting up a committee to trace the root causes of the story. Indeed, the set of five Terms of Reference (TORs) under which the committee is to function seems as if the government is trying to confound the confusion further. Perhaps this is to divert the attention of the public at large from the dubious role some government officials believed to have played all through the period since mid-2019, allegedly to sign a new deal with Kaveh Moussavi, the Broadsheet CEO, to recover the yet-to-be verified and yet-to-be established $1 billion presumably belonging to Nawaz Sharif, parked in a Singapore bank.

The intentions of the government in constituting the committee to inquire about the details of the origins of the story become all the more suspect when you go through what Fawad Chaudhry, Shibli Faraz and Shireen Mazari said at the press conference held for announcing the formation of the said committee.

At the very outset of the press conference they implied that the inquiry committee was being constituted to “investigate in 45 days the ‘fresh revelations’ in a verdict of a British court in the UK-based asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC case and fix the responsibility on those Pakistanis who, according to the firm, had illegally benefited themselves and laundered money to offshore banks”.

Shibli said the former rulers fully benefitted from the NRO concessions and continued looting the national wealth sans any remorse and shame. “The leaders of opposition parties, while in power, misappropriated the national exchequer time and again,” he added.

Responding to a question, the information minister said it was not the PTI government that unearthed the hidden properties of the Sharif family but the Broadsheet, an impartial asset recovery firm, which had no grudge against the Sharifs.

But then what the inquiry committee is being tasked to investigate is not Nawaz Sharif’s ‘ill-gotten wealth’ but the origins of the scandal in question.

What is, therefore, needed at this juncture is the formation of an inquiry committee to investigate post-verdict developments rather than to trace the events leading to signing of the irrevocable agreement between NAB and Broadsheet and its illegal revocation.

The inquiry committee constituted by the government should, therefore, be tasked to find out, under a new set of TORs, whether Akbar Shahzad, the PM’s accountability adviser, who worked as a special prosecutor for the NAB between 2004 and 2008, played any role in the 2008 illegal settlements with IAR and Broadsheet; and also to find out his role in the identification of bank accounts of a Pakistani businessman in the UK, and his lobbying with Britain’s NCA which confiscated £190 million from these account. A statement, released at the time from Akbar’s office, said that Britain had agreed to an "immediate repatriation" of funds received after the settlement to Pakistan, and hailed it as a "success story of close cooperation between the United Kingdom and Pakistan’s multiple law enforcement agencies and efforts made since last year’s Justice and Accountability Partnership created between the two countries".

According to the statement, the court proceedings were "against the funds themselves, not against any named individual. The settlement is a civil matter and does not represent a finding of guilt,". Interestingly this amount did not go to the government treasury but back to the said businessman in Pakistan who adjusted it against a fine for settling cases pertaining to a mega housing project.

At the same time, this committee should also look into the disclosures made by Mr Moussavi after the judgment, including the allegation that some people during this government’s stint had asked him for bribes. There are plenty of skeletons in the Broadsheet cupboard and they must be brought out into the open. The PTI government must ensure full transparency in the matter so that nothing is allowed to be obscured at the altar of political expediency.




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