Panama Papers: inquiry must focus only on parliamentarians: lawyers

Underscoring the need for articulating Terms of Reference (ToRs) to probe the Panama leaks, the legal fraternity on Saturday argued that the investigations into the Panama Leaks may be initiated from the Prime Minister and his family.

On May 20, the Senate had unanimously passed a resolution on formation of a parliamentary committee to finalise the ToRs to probe the Panama leaks; after the Panama papers revelations, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) drafted ToRs for a proposed commission to probe the matter.

After the formation of a parliamentary committee, the SCBA convened a convention of All Pakistan lawyers’ representatives on Saturday to develop consensus on the ToRs for the proposed judicial commission to be constituted on the Panama Papers.

Vice Chairman Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Dr Faroogh Nasim, SCBA president Syed Ali Zahar, vice Chairman Punjab Bar Council, representatives of Provincial and Islamabad High Court Bars, presidents of District Bar Associations Islamabad, Kasur, Rawalpindi and Sheikhupura developed a consensus that investigation may start from the Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and his children in the matter.

Welcoming the parliamentary committee, the legal fraternity termed the convention for fighting against corruption as a historical moment, addressing the parliamentarian committee to formulate the ToRs within two weeks with consensus or else it will be considered that Parliament has failed to meet the aspirations of the people of Pakistan and lawyers will devise a strategy to take to the streets against the menace.

“The investigation may start from the Prime Minister and his children to find out if he has invested or owned any offshore properties or some crime or wrongdoing has been done inclusive of the trail of money/funds and reconciliation with the declarations before the Election Commission of Pakistan and income/wealth tax authorities from January 1, 1985 till date in phase 1 and then move downwards to those who are or were in any way in the government holding public offices,” said the communiqué.

It further said, “The legal community now therefore calls upon the Parliamentary Committee to formulate the ToRs within two weeks with consensus failing which the legal community will be forced to take steps to have this matter of public interest concluded in a workable and effective manner”.

“The legal community however believes that the enquiry relating to leaked Panama papers be restricted to parliamentarians and holders of public office as they have to conform to the requirements of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution and not against businessmen or loan defaulters who are or have not been parliamentarian or holders of public office while at the same time action must be taken against any members,” it added.

All participants of the convention were agreed upon that government and opposition parties should have consensus on 13 points in the ToRs, at least including; “(i)The Chief Justice of Pakistan may nominate two eminent judges, sitting or retired, of the Supreme Court and a legal expert of eminence as Members of the Commission;

(ii) the Commission shall have the power to constitute an international joint investigation team or teams and to seek international co-operation from foreign country’s agencies to provide information, documents, evidence and record from abroad by directing the Government of Pakistan to move the mutual legal assistance requests (MLARs) or otherwise request for co-operation and assistance in the investigation or issue letters rogatory in accordance with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). (Letters rogatory or a letter of request is a formal request from a court to a foreign court for some type of judicial assistance. The most common remedies sought by letters rogatory are service of process and taking of evidence);

(iii) the Government of Pakistan, the Provincial Governments and all Governmental agencies and other organisations like NAB, FIA, IB, SBP and SECP shall by law extend all co-operation and assistance necessary for the investigation to the Commission and shall comply with all directions of the Commission which are issued in pursuance of or for the purposes of investigation;

(iv) Government of Pakistan shall be obliged by law to fully assist the investigation by extending all necessary financial, legal and diplomatic support to the investigation;

(v) the Government of Pakistan shall be responsible for creating the appropriate infrastructure and other facilities and for making the required funds available to the Commission to complete its investigation;

(vi) the time period for completion of the investigation shall be two (02) months extendable to a maximum of six (06) months from the date of commencement of the investigation;

(vii) the Commission shall cease to exist once it has finalised the investigation; however, no member of the Commission shall be removed until the Commission ceases to exist when the investigation is finalised or when the period of six (06) months has elapsed;

(viii) the Commission shall publish and shall make public its findings and conclusions itself without any reference to the Government of Pakistan;

(ix) the hearings of the Commission shall be open and transparent;

(x) the Commission shall have available the services of the Chairman FBR, the Deputy Governor SBP, Director General FIA and the Chairman NAB, for the purposes of implementing any directions of the Commission.

(xi)The Commission may examine all relevant records including financial data, taxes, bank accounts, records of regulatory authorities, central or state banks, Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs), corporate records, and records of assets, lands, buildings, vehicles and any other evidence or take witness statement in Pakistan or outside Pakistan;

(xii) the Commission shall be given the powers of a Civil Court in respect of matters of summoning, discovery and production of documents and issuance of commissions etc and requisitioning any public record and of contempt. In addition, the Commission shall have the power to require persons to furnish information and to direct the law enforcement agencies to enter any building or place for the purposes of seizure of evidence; and

(xiii) the Commission shall have powers to regulate its own procedure”.

Concluding the discussion in convention, the SCBA announced, “the legal community will announce its next strategy and advise the nation on how to deal with such a situation after two weeks awaiting the outcome of the deliberations of the Parliamentary Committee”.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2016