News Analysis |
The members of the Sharif Family once again, did not appear before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in Lahore on Sunday. The investigators had summoned deposed premier Nawaz Sharif, his sons Hassan and Hussain; daughter Maryam and Captain Safdar in order to further probe into the reference regarding Avenfield Apartments. The reference has been filed in-line with the Supreme Court Verdict of July 28, in Panama Papers Case.
The Sharifs had earlier also refused to appear before NAB on Friday, when summoned in reference to Al Azizia Steel Mills, one of the references sent to NAB by Supreme Court. After initially denying the receipt of NAB summons, family sources had said that there is no point in appearing before the NAB. The Sharifs are adamant that since their review petition is in the Supreme Court, appearance before NAB is pointless. Lawyers, however, point out that this is purely a political argument and has no legal basis; unless Sharifs obtain a stay order from Supreme Court their refusal to appear before NAB can have serious legal implications.
Nawaz has also filed a separate plea in the Supreme Court with a request to suspend the final verdict in the Panama Papers case as long as the review petition, filed by the family, awaits proceedings. The court’s unanimous verdict of July 28 had ordered NAB to file references in Accountability Court within six weeks; this deadline ends before September 15. Three of the four references ordered were directly related to the Sharif Family while the fourth one is directed at finance minister, Ishaq Dar.
Anyone not cooperating with NAB inquiry under Schedule of Offences (Offence: 2) can face up to prison up to five years. However, will NAB show the muscle to force country’s most powerful political clan, Sharif family, to cooperate with its investigations is a big question mark.
References against Nawaz Sharif and his sons relate to Al-Azizia Steel Mills, Hill Metal Establishment and sixteen other companies. The Sharifs and their supporters argue that they would not get justice from NAB since it is working under the supervision of a monitoring judge of Supreme Court. As per the July 28 verdict, Justice Ejaz ul Ehsan, one of the five members of the Panama Bench, will monitor the progress of the references, by NAB, which are to be filed within 6 weeks after the verdict. Legal experts point out that this too is a political argument, since there are precedents in both Pakistan and India, of investigating agencies, being supervised by the superior judiciary. Sources close to Sharif family, however, point out that family has been advised to use this plea – supervision by Supreme Court – as an excuse to boycott the NAB investigations. The objective of this strategy is to compel NAB to proceed ex-parte; however legal experts point out that under Sec. 19 and Sec. 24 of the NAB Ordinance 1999, NAB can arrest and force cooperation with its investigations. Anyone not cooperating with NAB inquiry under Schedule of Offences (Offence: 2) can face up to prison up to five years. However, will NAB show the muscle to force country’s most powerful political clan, Sharif family, to cooperate with its investigations is a big question mark.
Ever since the disqualification of ex-premier, Nawaz Sharif, PML-N, supporters and Nawaz Sharif himself have openly flouted the orders of the court; be it the use of state machinery for political rallies of a disqualified premier or public ridicule of the judges. Nawaz, followed by his supporters, is pushing a narrative, to the common man on street, that the five judges of the Supreme court (sometimes referred to as “five men”) have insulted the mandate of 200 million people and crores of voters. While Speaker National Assembly, Mr. Ayyaz Sadiq has now rejected all such rumors; but there are still suspicions that PML-N wants to use Speaker to bring a reference to Supreme Judicial Council, against Justice Asif Saeed Khosa; with an objective to force him out of the Review Bench.
The clause deems such acts as corrupt practices liable to punishment. Along with Sec. 19, 24 and Schedule of Offences, NAB has a powerful arsenal at its disposal to seek compliance from an accused.
With PML-N having a history of taking on courts, such an eventuality cannot be ruled-out. Many opine that the exertion of exceeding pressure on the courts through vitriol is an attempt to dodge NAB’s bullets. However, NAB references have been instituted.
Legal experts argue that the continued refusal to appear before NAB may land the still-powerful Sharif family in further trouble. Attempts to hamper, delay, and stall the process of investigation fall under section 31 of the NAB Ordinance 1999. The clause deems such acts as corrupt practices liable to punishment. Along with Sec. 19, 24 and Schedule of Offences, NAB has a powerful arsenal at its disposal to seek compliance from an accused. However political analysts caution that if accused is as powerful as ex-premier Nawaz Sharif, with his party ruling in both Center and Punjab, then most legal options may not work.
Ishaq Dar is believed to be trying to visit the US; Kulsoom Nawaz will be in London despite partaking in the Lahore by-poll and Nawaz may leave for London on Thursday. Given the fact that such events have adorned our political history, it is reasonable to think that such efforts might be happening behind the scenes.
While apparently, Sharif family has its backs against the wall. Yet, its tone and tenor is becoming more brazen and confrontational, to say the least.While crucial bye-elections in NA-120 are at hand little strategy is visible to win. What explains the singular focus of taking the judiciary head on? PML-N’s offer of a grand alliance is being rebuffed by the PPP. Though both Bilawal Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari are openly ridiculing Nawaz Sharif’s talk of revolution and threats to democracy; but political analysts argue that their union cannot be ruled-out, since both sides have reasons to join hands. PTI leader, Imran Khan and NAB references on corruption are common threats to both the parties. There are rumors making rounds that Zardari may go on to embrace his erstwhile elder brother in Nawaz Sharif.
Though untenable for now, many believe that Nawaz will try to eke-out an NRO-type deal by invoking international players. Ishaq Dar is believed to be trying to visit the US; Kulsoom Nawaz will be in London despite partaking in the Lahore by-poll and Nawaz may leave for London on Thursday. Given the fact that such events have adorned our political history, it is reasonable to think that such efforts might be happening behind the scenes.