ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has testified before a Supreme Court-appointed panel investigating whether his family used illegal means to establish overseas wealth and property.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which includes experts from civilian and military intelligence agencies, has already interrogated Sharif’s two sons, who are British citizens and look after the family’s overseas financial affairs.
Both of them have denied allegations of corruption and wrongdoing. Speaking to reporters Thursday immediately after his three-our long testimony, Sharif reiterated the family stance and said he placed all the relevant documents before the panel.
“Neither in the past have any charges of corruption been proved against us, nor will it happen in the future. Our opponents are welcome to level all sorts of allegations and make all possible efforts and conspiracies against us. But, God willing, they are bound to fail,” asserted the prime minister.
The controversy dates back to April 2016 when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published their Pulitzer Prize winning investigation of a global financial industry that enabled politicians, businessmen, criminals, and others around the world hide their ill-gotten gains or provide tax havens through offshore companies.
The leaked financial documents known as the Panama Papers listed Sharif’s two sons and a daughter, along with hundreds of Pakistanis, as holders of offshore bank accounts.
The country’s main opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan alleges Sharif received kickbacks and commissions while he was prime minister in the 1990s and siphoned off the money to offshore accounts.
The Supreme Court extensively examined the corruption charges against Sharif and three justices on the five-judge bench ruled this past April that there was insufficient evidence to remove the prime minister from office.
But the court formed the panel of experts to further probe the charges, binding Sharif and his family members to appear before the Joint Investigation Team and answer a set of questions with regard to their financial assets.
The highest Pakistani court also instructed the investigating team to finish its work in two months.
Khan’s party has been leading the legal battles against the prime minister and staging street rallies to press Sharif to resign from office.
Supporters of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N and Khan’s PTI had gathered outside the tightly-guarded building of Federal Judicial Academy in Islamabad where the high-profile probe has been underway. PTI activists chanted “shame, shame” when Sharif’s motorcade arrived Thursday at the Academy amid tight security.
Sharif’s party leaders and supporters hailed the development as a “historic moment" in Pakistan’s democratic history, asserting a sitting prime minister has for the first time agreed to “bow before the law.” But spokespeople for the opposition PTI party pointed out the prime minister had no option but to testify under the court order.
The investigating team, however, has been politicized mainly because the Sharif family from the outset questioned the independence of a couple of members.
The team has also informed the Supreme Court that government institutions are using delaying tactics and obstructing the investigation by tampering with the relevant financial documentary evidence, charges Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has denied.
The minister, a close Sharif relative, is on the list of people due to appear and testify before the panel.