Panama Papers: Sharif's Next Move?
TORONTO: In a damning report, the Joint Investigating Team (JIT) formed by Supreme Court to investigate into Panama Papers revelations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, has held the PM responsible for money laundering and living beyond means with inexplicable sources of income. The report recommended filing of reference against the Prime Minister and his sons – Hussain and Hasan – under the National Accountability Bureau law.
The report was categorical in stating that Sharif and his family failed to provide money trail for the capital they used to purchase three expensive Park Lane apartments in London. The report said that the corner stone of Sharif’s defence that the properties were purchased by selling the Gulf Steel Mills in Dubai in 1980, was proved wrong as in the records of UAE ministry there was no transactions by or for Sharif family.
During the 62-day investigation, the JIT comprising representatives of Federal Investigating Agency (FIA), Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), State Bank of Pakistan, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), and Military Intelligence (MI), found out three more off-shore companies owned by Sharifs on top of three they were investigating.
The report said that all off-shore companies were basically revolving money and sending out huge amounts to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself as ‘gifts’ from the sons.
In another setback Sharif’s heir apparent Maryam Nawaz was also accused of lying to the JIT on her sources of income and report established that three off-shore companies were in fact property of Maryam Nawaz. The observation certainly affected Maryam’s bid to take her father’s place as her current self bestowed title ‘Qaum ki Beti’ took a heavy blow.
The report contains 10 volumes and the Supreme Court bench investigating the case has asked for one week to examine the report and decide on way forward on the case on Monday, July 17. Soon after the news of report broke, the fatigued looking prime minister called his party stalwarts for a consultative session and decided to fight the case in Supreme Court tooth and nail. Prime Minister and his party decided to reject the JIT report and contest it in the court.
Now the ultimate question. What are the options left with the Prime Minister assuming the Supreme Court would implement the recommendations of its investigative body. The party says the party is not over and they’ll fight the legal battle. However, it seems that there is no time or reason left for the protracted legal battle that the Sharif camp is hoping for.
Sharif’s party PML-N is desperate for time reprieve. It’s not a good time at all to call new elections and dissolve the assemblies. The energy crisis is strangulating the people and the party is at its lowest ebb. The situation will get better, if all pipeline projects start delivering by the end of next winter. In current situation, it looks far-fetched that SC would drag the matter that far or opposition especially Imran Khan would wait that long.
Khan’s street power is proven and he has the ability to make life harder for Sharif. In any case there are no signs that the military establishment would wait that long. Sharif could or could not get the time needed to win the next elections if he goes begging to GHQ asking for time.
Second, he appoints someone from his party interim prime minister and steps down. This is a kind of uncharted territory where He never been in his entire political career. If he can appoint someone from the family only then he would consider this option otherwise he would prefer going for early elections. From the family, Maryam is tainted in the report and so are Hussain and Hasan. That leaves his wife Kulsoom to take the seat. She is not MP but could contest within six months. However, the question is would she be able to lead the party that is very pro-establishment.
A wink from the GHQ and the Sharif could be standing alone in the arena. The mood of the military establishment is not conciliatory so far. There are low-level and cautious fireworks from the ministers against the military but it seems that they are doing it after asking from the right quarters. Sharif knows that.
Also it is not the party and the next elections he has to bother about. He has to make sure that the current money laundering case does not turn into a criminal investigation against the family. In that case Sharif’s priority would be to save him and family from the iron-hand of military establishment.
(Mohammed Rizwan is a Pakistani journalist based in Canada)