Govt delays notification on Broadsheet probe panel

Minister says ‘everything will be decided’ tomorrow


Hasnaat Malik January 24, 2021

ISLAMABAD:

The federal government has delayed the issuance of a notification regarding formation of the inquiry committee on Broadsheet issue, a senior cabinet member told The Express Tribune, stressing however that everything would be decided on Monday (tomorrow).

Earlier this week, the federal cabinet had ordered the inquiry, headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court or a high court, to examine the circumstances relating to the Broadsheet agreement and subsequent arbitration proceedings and present its report and recommendation in 45 days.

The cabinet also decided that the inquiry committee would include a senior officer from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), a senior lawyer appointed by Prime Minister Imran Khan and an official of the office of the Advocate General for Pakistan.

Also read: ‘PML-N’s property could come up from Broadsheet scandal'

Later the government announced that the inquiry would be led by former Supreme Court judge Azmat Saeed Sheikh. However, it has yet to issue the notification, which is creating doubts in people’s minds. A senior cabinet member insisted that “everything will be decided” on Monday.

Amid severe criticism from the opposition parties as well as the some sections of the media on the nomination of Justice (retd) Sheikh as the head of the inquiry committee, it is learnt that the opinion is also divided within the government quarters.

One section believes that the decision should be reviewed after taking Justice (retd) Sheikh into confidence. However, the other side believes that it will not be in the interest of former apex court judge as well as the government to involve in this controversy.

Therefore, the latter suggests, the government must review its decision on his nomination. Similarly, they also suggest that Term of References (ToRs) – also approved by the cabinet in its meeting on Tuesday – should be reviewed.

A PTI lawyer admitted that there was a consensus among the opposition parties as well as the media against Azmat Saeed’s nomination but the government must consider what would be the reaction of the judiciary in case the name of the former judge was withdrawn.

Legal experts have indicated that the appointment of Justice (retd) Sheikh could be challenged in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on the basis of conflict of interest because the former judge had worked as deputy/special prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

If this happened, they legal experts say, it would be embarrassing not only for the retired judge but also for the whole judiciary. Therefore, senior lawyers have urged the government to seek opinion from the AGP office or the law ministry before issuing notification.

On the other hand, sources closed to the former judge revealed that the government had sought Justice (retd) Sheikh consent before his nomination, adding that Justice (retd) Sheikh was expected to reach Islamabad on Monday and other committee members will be nominated with his consent.

Earlier, the PTI government was interested in nominating senior lawyer Ali Zafar as member of the committee. However, Justice (retd) Sheikh urged the government not to nominate him because he was the chairman of the Insaf Lawyers Forum—the legal wing of ruling party.

It is also learnt that former apex court judge recommended the name of Zahid F Ibrahim, son of renowned lawyer Fakhruddin G Ibrahim. Likewise, Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan is expected to name a senior law officer as the other member of the committee.

Meanwhile, a senior official in the law ministry revealed to The Express Tribune that the ministry had disassociated itself from the Broadsheet controversy. The ministry has said that it has nothing to do with this issue.

A cabinet member said that opposition parties did a blunder by objecting to Justice (retd) Sheikh’s nomination and now the government would show its cards carefully. Similarly, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders might face a tough time after the outcome of committee, he said.

In March 2019, the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) gave $20 million final award in the Broadsheet case. However, NAB/PTI government did not pay that amount and due to interest, the award amount rose to $28.7 million by December 2020.

Senior lawyers have said that the government should give explanation on $8 to 10 million interest which had been added to the award payment. The country faced $5,000 interest daily in the Broadsheet case.

Earlier, the debit of billions of rupees from the Pakistan High Commission in UK accounts also caused a friction between NAB and the Foreign Office, as the later demands of the former to remit its amount ($235,000) to the high commission at the earliest.

During an inter-ministerial meeting three weeks ago, a senior Foreign Office official stated that NAB should take responsibility for the matter and must reply to this embarrassment.

During the meeting, according to sources, the Foreign Office official posed three questions to the NAB director general: Firstly, when would the amount be transferred to the Pakistan High Commission in London; secondly, why authorisation was issued to the Pakistan High Commission to pay the amount; and thirdly, why should NAB not pay the bill for the new legal proceedings on the issue. However, the NAB official had sought time to consult his seniors in this regard.


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