ISLAMABAD (Monitoring Desk): Announcing its eagerly-anticipated verdict in the Panama leaks case, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered an investigation into how money was transferred to Qatar, a year after a Panama Papers revelations linked the prime minister's family to offshore businesses.
The apex court has ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation team (JIT) to carry out the investigation, which should present its report every two weeks before the five-judge bench. The Supreme Court also ordered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and his sons Hasan and Hussein to appear before the JIT.
The detailed decision by the apex court comprised a total of 540 pages, with the verdict split 3-2 between the five-member apex court bench. Announcing the detailed verdict, the chief justice said that the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had failed to carry out his duties.
The committee comprising of one senior official each from the FIA, NAB, SECP, SBP, ISI, and MI, will be tasked to probe the assets, announced the chief justice.
The five-member bench led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had reserved its verdict in the case on February 23. The decision comes as security and the economy improve in the country ahead of general elections scheduled to be held next year.
The controversy erupted with the publication of the so-called Panama Papers last year, 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca which documented the offshore dealings of many of the world's rich and powerful.
Among the global elite implicated were three of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's – his daughter Maryam, and his sons Hasan and Hussein. At the heart of the matter was the legitimacy of the funds used by the prime minister's children to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies.
Sharif's ruling PML-N party had insisted the wealth was acquired legally through family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf. But the opposition parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), argued the paper trail for the funds was non-existent, and that the onus was on PM Nawaz Sharif to prove his relatives did not engage in money laundering.
The case took the country by storm and dominated headlines in the country for over a year now, with all eyes set on the Supreme Court in Islamabad for the much-anticipated verdict.
Security beefed up
Security had been beefed up around the Supreme Court at Islamabad's Constitution Avenue, with additional barriers placed and barbed wires laid around several buildings.
Around 1000 police, Rangers and security personnel were deployed inside and outside the apex court building. A senior police official said entry of irrelevant persons in the Red Zone was blocked, while VIPs' security guards would also not be able to carry arms with them.
Separately, around 2,500 police officers were deployed in the provincial capital Lahore ahead of the verdict, according to a Punjab police spokesperson. The security force included six superintendents, 29 deputy superintendents, 83 SHOs, 165 upper subordinates, and around 2,400 lower subordinates.
PTI, PML-N workers barred from going to SC
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had barred his party activists from going to the apex court, on the occasion of the announcement of a much-awaited verdict in the Panama leaks case. He said that no irrelevant person needs to go to the Supreme Court.
PTI chairman Imran Khan had also restricted his workers from coming to the apex court. He said only central leaders of the party would go to the SC.
PTI to accept any verdict by SC
Leaders from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which has been a major stakeholder in the case, were optimistic for a positive judgment. Speaking to reporters outside the Supreme Court, PTI central information secretary Naeem ul Haque said his party would accept the Supreme Court's verdict.
"Imran Khan has repeatedly said that the party will accept the SC’s verdict. We respect Pakistani courts and the SC is the highest court in Pakistan’s judicial hierarchy," Haque said. "The SC's verdict on this case will be in favor of all Pakistani citizens," the PTI leader added.
Earlier on Wednesday, PTI leader Asad Umar said it was clear to him what the verdict would be.
"The evidence we saw during the last 12 months, the facts that were put before the nation, and what was presented to the Supreme Court. All facts and evidence are against Mian sb. When the nation sees that [Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif could not bring anything other than the one Qatari letter, it is clear to us what the verdict will be," said PTI leader Asad Umar.