In an effort to calm the storm whipped up by the revelations contained in the recently leaked Panama Papers, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced that a judicial commission would investigate the offshore companies owned by members of his family.
Addressing the nation on Tuesday night — just over a week after his last televised address — a sombre-sounding prime minister said he had taken the decision because “fingers are being pointed at the business concerns of my sons”.
It was a departure from the norm; the subject matter of Tuesday night’s speech was more personal than anything the PM has had to address during his current term.
His voice was heavy with emotion as he recalled how the business empire, built by his father, was nearly ruined on several occasions.
“Ittefaq Foundry, which was set up by my father, had branches in both East and West Pakistan. In Dec 1971, we lost the East Pakistan branch to the fall of Dhaka. A few days later in January 1972, the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over the foundry in Lahore as well.”
Reminiscing about his father’s spirit, PM Sharif said that within 18 months of nationalisation, his father was back on his feet and had opened six new factories. A hollow shell of what used to be the Ittefaq Foundry was returned to the family in 1979, which his father had to rescue yet again.
“We were not in politics then, but we had to face several hardships. But even after entering politics, we were victimised. You may remember that in 1989, the ship ‘Jonathan’, which was carrying raw material for our factory, was not allowed to unload for a year,” he said, referring to the first Benazir Bhutto government. This victimisation, he said, continued into Ms Bhutto’s second term in office.
“Who doesn’t know what Gen Pervez Musharraf did to the Sharif family and its businesses,” the PM asked rhetorically, adding that after his exile to Saudi Arabia, his father took some loans and set up a steel mill near Makkah, which was later sold and the proceeds were used to “fund his two sons’ business concerns”.
Hassan Nawaz has been living in London since 1994 and Hussain Nawaz in Saudi Arabia since the year 2000, he said. “People who want to hide their business don’t register them in their own name. Whatever business concerns my sons have are in their name,” he maintained.
However, the prime minister did not talk about his daughter, Maryam, who has also been named as the beneficial owner of one of her brother’s offshore companies.
Though he did not name the PTI, he said, “I don’t have time to respond to those who level allegations on a daily basis,” adding that, “I know who these people are and what their objectives are in criticising my family.”
Announcing his plan to appoint a retired judge of the Supreme Court to head the investigation into allegations against his family, the PM said, “rather than repeating oft-quoted accusations, I ask those who stage a new drama every day to appear before the commission and prove their claims”.
Political reactionThe PPP was quick to react to the PM’s speech, terming it “most unfortunate” that the PM had blamed his woes on the policies of Zulfikar and Benazir Bhutto “to deflect the storm brewing as a result of the Panama Papers”.
“Instead of answering questions raised in the leaked documents, the PM resorted to a blame-game against PPP leaders,” Farhatullah Babar, the party’s spokesperson, said in a statement issued soon after the PM’s address.
Responding to the PM’s claims regarding the detention of the cargo ship ‘Jonathan’, Babar said, “He conveniently forgot that the cargo ship was held up by customs authorities after it was found to be carrying a sugar plant instead of the intended steel scrap cargo.”
The prime minister, Babar said, would do well to answer questions raised by the leaked documents, rather than playing a blame-game.
The PTI, in its reaction to the speech, expressed their dissatisfaction with the PM’s response over the questions raised by the leaked documents. Party spokesperson Naeemul Haq, in a statement, said that the PM had also not specified who would choose a judge to head the proposed judicial commission, or whether it will be empowered to examine the Sharifs’ assets abroad as well.
Haq also contended that rather than anyone else having to prove their claims, it was the Sharifs who would have to account for their wealth before the commission.
Jamaat-i-Islami emir Srajul Haq says if the premier sincerely desires a probe, he should immediately hand over the matter to the National Accountability Bureau so that the truth is out.
He says seeing nature of the allegations, inquiry into the matter is not the job of a retired judge. Rather a full-fledged investigation agency should do the task.
Or else, he suggests, the matter should be entrusted to the Chief Justice of Pakistan who should appoint a judicial commission comprising three senior most judges of the apex court for the purpose.
Copyright: Asia News Network/ Dawn