- Says PM should be investigated in 90 days, others in one year
- Stringent demands call for presumption of guilt if PM, others fail to prove legitimacy of assets
The united opposition on Tuesday finalised their 15-point Terms of Reference (TORs), including the demand to enact a new law – Panama Papers (Inquiry and Trial) Act – to facilitate the investigation, but announced that they were dropping the demand of PM’s resignation ahead of the investigation.
In addition, the opposition parties have demanded that the proposed act will provide for “an irrebuttable presumption of guilt” if those being investigated refuse or fail to facilitate the probe. The demands say those being investigated shall bear the burden of proving, if ownership of assets or offshore companies is established, that it was lawfully acquired through legitimate sources and funds.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said time and again that if corruption of a single penny is proven against him, he will go home, the opposition parties, however, have tried to turn the tables by establishing the principle of ‘presumption of guilt’, which means that the prime minister and other respondents will have to prove their innocence, instead of the commission having to prove their guilt.
While the government’s TORs appeared to broaden the scope of the investigation as far as possible, while providing little to no powers to the investigating commission, the opposition’s demands have called for the exact opposite.
The government has responded to the TORs by saying that it considers them a wishlist of the rejected politicians, but that despite their reservations they would “consider them with an open mind”.
The TORs called for an investigation into the prime minister and his family’s offshore accounts and assets by the judicial commission within a period of 90 days – extendable by 30 days – while investigation of the remaining 200 accused may be completed in one year.
DREAM ON, SAYS THE GOVT:
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Secretary Information Mushahidullah Khan has termed the TORs a ‘wish-list’ of the ‘rejected elements’ to see an elected prime minister go home without any valid reason.
“Despite the fact that there is no mention of the prime minister in the Panama Papers, the opposition wants him on the hook,” he said.
He said that the opposition’s actions were nothing short of a witch hunt against a popular leader of the country.
A late night meeting of the core group of the prime minister’s team deliberated upon the TORs of the opposition but decided not to give a formal reaction without obtaining the views of the government’s legal team.
OPPOSITION PARTIES UNITE:
The opposition parties – including Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A), Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) and Awami Muslim League (AML) – agreed on the points after meeting for the second successive day at the residence of Senator Aitzaz Ahsan.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Dr Farooq Sattar attended the meeting but left halfway after he received news of the sudden death of his close aide in Rangers’ custody in Karachi.
The opposition parties failed to convince the QWP and ANP on the demand of PM’s resignation prior to the commencement of the investigation.
According to the TORs, the opposition has demanded of the government to create a new law and pass it through parliament to facilitate the investigation into the assets and bank accounts of the prime minister and all other Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers.
The joint opposition also called for the constitution of a special judicial commission headed by the chief justice of Pakistan and comprising two other Supreme Court judges to be nominated by the chief justice.
THE SURGICAL DEMANDS:
The opposition’s demands include the following:
“The commission shall inquire into the following questions arising out of the disclosures from Panama Papers:
What properties are held beneficially, benami or otherwise bought and sold by the respondent and his family members during the period 1985-2016?
What sources of income were available to the respondent and his family during this period?
What bank accounts were these funds kept in?
Were the respondent and his family members not required to pay income tax in Pakistan for such incomes?
On what date and through which banks were the funds transferred for the purchase of the properties abroad?
Who was the person(s) from whom the aforementioned properties were purchased?
Where a Respondent himself admits ownership of any properties abroad, what other properties, assets or interests did the Respondent or members of his family acquire by payments made from bank accounts from which the disclosed properties were purchased by the Respondent?
Is the accretion and acquisition of assets commensurate with the Income Tax paid year wise by the respondent and his family since 1985 and whether opening, maintaining and operating offshore accounts by or on behalf of the respondent and members of his family or being beneficiaries of such accounts could be regarded as legal or proper for him and/or his family?
Whether the respondent and his family are required to disclose money trail/transfer of funds into their offshore accounts and money trail/transfer of funds out of such accounts for purchase of properties or other investments in foreign countries?
Whether the prime minister or his family during their stay abroad from December 2000 onwards was State Guests on behalf of Pakistan and whether any property, gifts or amounts received by them during that time belonged to the state of Pakistan and were liable to be deposited in the state exchequer?
Whether a respondent by concealing the ownership and source of income through which the properties were procured, and concealing them in the nomination papers during the previous elections or before relevant tax authorities, has committed corrupt and illegal practices under the election/tax laws?
Whether all transfer of funds, purchase of assets and all other investments and transactions can be chronologically reconciled by the respondent or his family?
The commission may appoint a committee of experts in international forensic audit to carry out an exhaustive investigation and audit into the offshore companies and their accounts owned by the respondent and his family including all transactions, sales and purchases of all assets, moveable and immoveable, including stocks, shares, debentures and equitable or benami interests, opening and operation of all bank accounts, including offshore bank accounts and incorporation of all companies including offshore companies whether directly or behind corporate veil(s) wherever in the world they may be,” say the TORs.
The act passed will provide for “an irrebuttable presumption of guilt” if those being investigated refuse or fail to facilitate of authorize the probe.
Those being investigated shall bear the burden of proving, if ownership of such assets or offshore companies is established, that it was lawfully acquired through legitimate sources and funds.
Before the commission enters upon any enquiry, the respondents (starting with the prime minister his family as volunteered by himself) shall place all and complete information of all their worldwide moveable and immoveable assets and interests in properties, benami, beneficial, offshore or otherwise held at any time since 1985 along with full details of the income,” read the terms of reference agreed upon by the joint opposition.
The commission will also be tasked to verify the money trail and how funds were provided for such offshore companies.
In case a respondent and his family fail to extend full cooperation to the commission or if they are unable to rebut the presumption that the assets were not acquired through legitimate sources, funds and means, the commission shall direct them to forthwith liquidate and bring those assets and funds to Pakistan where the state shall forfeit them.
All Respondents, including the prime minister and his family, shall present themselves before the commission for examination and cross-examination, by any person permitted by the commission.
The commission shall have all the powers of a court under the Constitution, CPC, CrPC and the Supreme Court Rules; a respondent held responsible by the commission for any illegal act or conduct shall be prosecuted and punished in accordance with law by a court of competent jurisdiction.
Each report of the commission shall be published by the federal government within one week of its submission provided that the report concerning the prime minister and his family shall be completed and submitted in the first instance.
All proceedings before the commission shall be open to the public.”
POWERS AND PROCEDURE:
“The powers and procedure of the commission shall be as under:
The government of Pakistan, the provincial governments and all governmental agencies and other organisations like NAB, FIA, IB, SBP and SECP shall extend all cooperation and assistance necessary for the investigation to the commission and shall comply with its directions.
The government of Pakistan shall be obliged by law to fully assist the investigation by extending all necessary financial, legal and diplomatic support including obtaining cooperation from various international agencies for the conduct of the investigation. The government of Pakistan shall be responsible for creating appropriate infrastructure and other facilities and for making the required funds available to the commission to complete its task,” say the TORs.
The commission may constitute an international joint investigation team or teams and seek international cooperation from foreign countries or agencies to provide information, documents, evidence and record from abroad or otherwise request for cooperation and assistance in the investigation or issue letters and interrogatories in accordance with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), the World Bank Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (STAR) and Mutual Legal Assistance Requests (MLARS).
The procedure of the enquiry shall be fully inquisitorial in character. The burden of proof in all matters shall be entirely on the respondent and his family to prove their innocence.
Responding to a question at a press briefing after the meeting, Aitzaz Ahsan admitted that there were differences among opposition parties about the resignation of Prime Minister Sharif before the enquiry.
PTI leader Hamid Khan, however, reiterated his party’s demand for the prime minister’s resignation on Panama papers.
PPP Information Secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira said that all opposition parties in principle backed demands for Prime Minister’s resignation, but there was disagreement on its timing.
Aitzaz Ahsan said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family should be the first to be probed under the enquiry commission set up to probe the Panama Papers.
The opposition parties unanimously rejected the TORs prepared by the government.
“In our earlier meeting, it was decided by all opposition parties that the TORs presented earlier by the government were unacceptable,” Aitzaz said.