- Khurshid Shah and Imran Khan launch scathing attacks on PML-N govt, demand complete forensic examination of offshore companies owned by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children, others
- Imran Khan says will launch street agitation if govt does not form judicial commission headed by serving CJP, engage forensic experts in probe
- Criticises govt for making Shaukat Khanum Hospital controversial, offers himself and hospital for accountability
The treasury benches, put under tremendous pressure by the opposition parties in the National Assembly over the so-called Panama Leaks on Thursday, indicated that they were willing to engage forensic experts to examine the allegations made against the Sharif family, but still fell short of accepting Imran Khan’s main demand that the commission be headed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The united opposition on Thursday rejected the prime minister’s announcement to form a commission headed by a retired judge to probe the allegations leveled in the Panama Papers about the prime minister’s family members having offshore companies and accounts, along with 200 Pakistani politicians, businessmen and others. The opposition parties instead called for a high powered commission headed by the chief justice of Pakistan, as well as forensic accountants to establish a money trail.
Leader of the Opposition Syed Khurshid Shah said that the joint opposition had decided to reject the toothless commission and if the government really wanted a transparent investigation into the leaks, a forensic audit by an internationally recognised firm must be conducted.
It was, however, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan who stole the show during the National Assembly session by delivering a crisp and incisive speech which not only raised questions about the PM’s possible involvement in accumulating illegal wealth, he also roundly criticised them for putting the only cancer hospital in Pakistan in their crosshairs simply because it furthered their political goals.
Harsh words were exchanged twice between the PTI and the PML-N lawmakers after two federal ministers – Khwaja Asif and Rana Tanvir made objectionable remarks against Imran Khan, prompting the PTI chief and others to stand up from their seats and respond in kind. It was National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq who intervened and pacified the opposition and treasury benches.
Opening the debate on an adjournment motion submitted by PTI lawmakers about the revelations made in the Panama Papers regarding offshore assets of the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and others, Khurshid Shah said that the prime minister’s family members had admitted the ownership of offshore companies.
He said the Panama leaks had become an international issue and could not be swept under the rug. He said the matter was not taken up by the PTI or any other media outlet. Rather, the revelations had been made in an expose involving many other world leaders.
“Hussain Nawaz has admitted that they formed these offshore companies for the purpose of tax evasion. Now it needs to be probed whether the money was taken abroad through money laundering or through legitimate means. The opposition has rejected the powerless commission proposed by the government. Now it is the responsibility of the prime minister to conduct forensic audit of these accounts by an international forensic audit firm,” he added.
The PPP leader said the prime minister’s address to the nation had raised many serious questions and the PM needed to respond. He said that the commission was not the answer to the questions which had been raised about the PM’s family in the wake of the leaks.
“It is interesting to note that the prime minister is always saying that China is investing in Pakistan. How can the PM claim that other countries should invest in Pakistan while his own children are investing abroad?” Shah argued.
“The opposition stands united and it represents the nation. No one will accept the judgment of a powerless commission,” he added.
He said the international auditors would not accept any pressure. He said the government’s commission will not come up with a report in three years let alone three months as the government claims.
A SIT-IN IS ON THE CARDS:
Addressing members of the parliament, Imran Khan warned the government of consequences if the demands of the opposition were not met. Khan said if the government stubbornly refused their demands, they would have to start a protest sit-in once again.
Khan’s speech was marred by frequent interruptions from the treasury benches. However, Khan showed restraint and asked the ruling party’s lawmakers to have the heart and listen to him. Finally, the National Assembly speaker had to warn the ruling party’s MPs to listen to the PTI chief quietly or he would be forced to take disciplinary action.
“Prime minister faces four major charges – tax evasion, money laundering, lying to the nation and concealing assets from the Election Commission. These are very serious charges and they have to be examined,” he said.
“We won’t allow the government to bury the issue. This has now become a global issue. The nation demands answers from the prime minister. We are elected by the nation and we have to represent them. If a powerful commission is not formed, we will hold protests,” a belligerent Khan warned.
He said that Panama leaks had evoked a global response and Iceland’s premier had to step down while rulers of other countries were also being questioned.
“Even the Indian prime minister has ordered a probe and a report will be submitted to him by April 25. The prime minister has to answer to the nation, otherwise he will lose his moral authority. A prime minister rules the country through his moral authority and not by force. If he fails to come clear on this issue, he will lose his authority to rule the country,” he said.
Khan welcomed an audit by the commission into his own assets and accounts – his Bani Gala house, bank accounts as well as the accounts of the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust (SKMT).
“Just to wiggle out of public scrutiny, the government has started blaming SKMT which is developed by public money. If there is any wrongdoing in Shaukat Khanum, the government, rather than conducting a press conference, should have contacted the hospital administration to check the facts and if they are found guilty, the government should have taken action. The hospital belongs to the poor people of Pakistan,” Khan said.
He regretted that the government had tried to divert the public criticism to hide the criminal acts of the ruling family.
“When I form the government, I won’t forgive thieves. Rather than conducting press conferences, I will put them in jail,” the PTI chief said. He told the House that SKMT management had invested $3 million overseas as the amount comes from donations from overseas Pakistanis and because the hospital administration needs it to pay for hospital supplies including drugs that they have to buy from abroad.
“If the government had checked Shaukat Khanum accounts, they would have found out that the amount had been deposited in June 2015. But the rulers thought it was more important to blame Imran Khan even though this could jeopardize the only cancer hospital in the country and the only one in the world where 70 per cent cancer patients are treated without charging a penny,” Khan added.
The PTI chief asked the ruling party’s members ask questions of the prime minister as per democratic traditions.
“If the PML-N is a democratic party, it should have asked the PM to answer questions as per democratic norms. British premiers (Margret) Thatcher and (Tony) Blair were not ousted by the opposition. They were instead forced by their own party to resign,” he added.
During the session, Minister for Defence Production Rana Tanvir used abusive language against Imran Khan which prompted Khan and PTI members to stand up and respond. However, after the Speaker’s intervention, Rana Tanvir had to apologize. Defence Minister Khwaja Asif also used derogatory language against Imran Khan which also triggered an uproar. However, the situation defused later amicably.
GOVT AGREES TO FORENSIC EXAMINATION:
Responding to the points raised by the opposition, Defence Minister Khwaja Asif said that the government had no objection to the demand of a forensic audit into the allegations made about the PM’s family. He said under the law, it was not mandatory to appoint a sitting judge for a commission and that a retired judge heading a commission had the same power as a serving judge.
He said the terms of reference (TORs) are the main tool to delegate powers to the commission. He said the government will announce the commission members in the next day or two. He said the TORs would be so significant and consequential that no one would be able to complain that the commission is not credible. He said if the opposition was not satisfied with the commission, the matter could be taken to the Supreme Court.
He said the government had no objection to holding the debate in the parliament to discuss the Panama Leaks but the debate should be held under prescribed rules.