Trying to portray business as usual, the rich and the powerful identified in the PANAMA LEAKS are scrambling for cover across the world. The history of “Commissions” in Pakistan does not inspire confidence. Their findings have always been kept under tight wraps until being leaked (Abbottabad and Hamoodur Rahman Commission Reports). The secrecy of the Munir Commission (1954) findings and the 1951 inquiry into PM Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination will probably continue to haunt this country forever. Given this history, is the “Judicial Commission” announced by Mian Nawaz Sharif (MNS) before he went for a “medical check-up” to London two weeks ago the solution?
Talking to one of the world’s leading white collar forensic audit experts in Wash DC, my good friend Haider Mehdi enquired about MNS and the “Panamanian epidemic” afflicting Pakistan. The expert’s comments, “There’s no doubt that MNS is guilty….not the shadow of a doubt…..but proving it in any court of law with authenticated documentation is absolutely impossible. It will be almost impossible get the “legal evidence” i.e. evidence acceptable in a court of law in Pakistan or the Election Commission tribunal to prove any wrong doing to convict MNS, he will get away. He doesn’t care about the “moral” aspect, only the legal aspect. His trip to London was to lock down any legal loopholes. We deal with similar cases every day, trying to trace corruption, embezzlement, misuse of funds, and regularly deal with these off-shore tax havens. It’s like hitting an iron wall. Despite our position, and highly trained specialists like me and better, the best legal teams in the world hit a stonewall. The legal barriers that these tax havens have created have even thwarted by the best of the USA investigators,” unquote. Was the MNS London visit used for appointing two “Consultants” to legally stonewall possible enquiries into the Sharif family off-shore holdings?
The internationally renowned expert went on, “Everyone knows (Asif Ali) Zardari is guilty of massive loot and plunder, hand in glove with Rehman Malik. Two PML (N) and one military government couldn’t prove anything, the guy eventually became President and Rehman Malik the Interior Minister. Ishaq Dar’s blow by blow account of Nawaz Sharif’s money-laundering process is like a book titled ” How to Money Launder in 45 Pages” was thrown out by the Lahore High Court because Dar claimed his statement was given under duress. Only the people or the Army can remove him. And I don’t think either will or can,” unquote. The people hardly have a say when huge amounts of government patronage combines with illegal money to influence opinion but the superior judiciary and the Army may be on one page having different thoughts on this issue.
Why is the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sitting on its haunches? NAB’s recent investigations have been equitably fair and targeted evenly, not only do they have the capability but they do not need anyone’s permission to carry out forensic audit. National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) provisions allows Chairman NAB to (1) use suo moto powers of Section 18(b)(iii) which says “on its own accord a reference under this Ordinance shall be initiated by the NAB” (2) use Section 21 for a request for Mutual Legal Assistance under international cooperation for evidence collection from foreign jurisdictions. (3) Form Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) under Section 27 of NAO embedding FMU (Financial Monitoring Unit) entrusted with Anti Money-Laundering Act, with attorneys having international level exposure and investigators from FBR, FIA, Police and NAB heading the teams and International law firms having private investigators could be co-opted to assist (4) the individuals indicated in “Panama Leaks” could be served with Assets Declaration Forms under Application Clause (Section 4) read with Section 9 (Corruption and Corrupt Practices). Trial can proceed under the Presumption provided in Section 14 which says “if the accused fails to satisfactory account, of property or pecuniary resources disproportionate to his known sources of income, Court shall presume, unless contrary is proved that accused person is guilty of the offense of corruption and corrupt practices and his conviction shall not be invalid by reason only that it is based solely on such a presumption”.
Most of the cases entrusted to JITs under tax evasion and money- laundering may end up with different courts and jurisdictions but the primary objective of acquiring evidence will get fulfilled effectively. Seeking of evidence under International Mutual Agreement will be difficult but the cases of Money Laundering and Tax Evasion, coupled with other charges, will stand on their feet if money trail leaving the country could be detected by the FMU through money exchangers and banks having relationships with those named in the Panama Leaks. SBP can help in scrutinizing these banks for movement of foreign exchange using Dubai as a transit point. The UAE authorities have strengthened their anti-money-laundering unit for illegal financial flows (IFFs) through money exchangers and normal banking channels from Pakistan.
Corruption being a very real and a direct threat to Pakistan’s national security, this is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the people of Pakistan to tackle corruption head on targetting the broad spectrum of those who facilitate it, including the media. Published by the “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists” (ICIJ), the Panama Papers are neither local nor homegrown, otherwise it would have landed in the dustbin by now. What about the Pakistani media entity/entities participating in the ICIJ initiative receiving the leaked data more than a year ago for review? For how much (or for what) did they pass this information to the Sharifs, coincidence that Hussain Sharif attempted to pre-empt this by a staged “friendly” TV interview several weeks before “Panama Leaks” were actually aired worldwide? The Pakistani media entity have become accessories post-facto by reasons of collaboration. Anyone who indulges in corruption (or abets it in any way) must be held accountable for treason and given the same commensurate punishment.
The Army Chief’s recent statement about zero-sum tolerance towards corruption and accountability “across the board” is significant. Those involved in IFFs have already lost the moral ground. Why are our troops in the field making tremendous sacrifices, so that the corrupt can keep on living in luxury? With the camouflage of democracy being openly used to deliberately criminalize society, should one blindly adhere to Raza Rabbani’s version of the “Constitution” in which only Article 6 matters but corruption does not, or does one do one’s duty to the nation and its people by doing what is morally right.
The writer, a leading defense and security analyst, gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Brig (Retd) Musaddiq Abbasi, former DG NAB.