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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

SECP under scrutiny, Panama JIT approaching its climax.

The July 10th deadline for the Panamagate JIT is drawing closer and tensions are flaring all across the political spectrum. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has wasted no time in hastening an investigation against the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), which was accused by the JIT of tampering with the records of an investigation into a Sharif family owned Chaudhry Sugar Mills.

The four-member probe team, headed by FIA Anti-Corruption Wing Director Maqsoodul Hassan, began the investigation on Friday, June 23, just before the start of the Eid holidays and continued its work on Saturday and Sunday. It picked up where it had left off on Wednesday, after a two-day Eid break.

The FIA team, which includes deputy directors Hazrat Ali, Ayaz Khan and Tahir Tanveer, have been appropriated a separate office on the SECP premises, near the chairman’s secretariat, and their first directive was to the SECP law department, asking their staff to be present during the holidays.

Sources in the investigation agency have revealed that the FIA team was likely to complete its work at the SECP head office by Thursday afternoon, and records and witness statements would be scrutinized at FIA headquarters.

Read More: The summoning of the Sharif family by JIT: Shall we praise…

In its response to the JIT’s allegations, the SECP maintained that investigations against Chaudhry Sugar Mills were completed in 2013.

The team was formed on the directives of the apex court after the six-member JIT probing allegations of money laundering against the Sharif family reported to the Supreme Court that the SECP had tampered with certain records which created hurdles in the probe.

The FIA team had started its work on the same day as it was notified not only to save time, but also to maintain secrecy and avoid any hindrance in the investigations.

The accusation of record-tampering was leveled against incumbent SECP Chairman Zafar Hijazi and it was alleged that he closed an inquiry of money laundering by Chaudhry Sugar Mills — owned by the Sharif family — with retroactive effect.

“The FIA officials came prepared and knew where to start. Within minutes of taking charge, Mr. Arsalan, deputy director of the Enforcement Department, was called to answer some questions,” an official privy to the developments said. His interrogation lasted for more than four hours.

In its response to the JIT’s allegations, the SECP maintained that investigations against Chaudhry Sugar Mills were completed in 2013, before the incumbent government came to power.

However, a startling revelation was made by Maheen Fatima, current director of the Internal Audit and Compliance Department, to the JIT and the FIA team. She revealed that had investigations had been initiated against Chaudhry Sugar Mills in 2011, but the case was closed in 2016

In her statement to the JIT, which was also repeated in front of the FIA team, Ms. Fatima claimed that the investigation into money laundering by Chaudhry Sugar Mills was discarded in March 2013, at the time of the elections.

In addition, then acting SECP chairman Tahir Mahmood, currently a commissioner of the Company Law Division, was also asked if the investigations against Chaudhry Sugar Mills were finalized in 2013 or not.

Read More: Will the JIT be able to handle PML-N’s pressure?

The FIA team is expected to finalize and submit its report to the JIT on June 30 or July 1, 2017.

Another officer, Ali Azeem, who was executive director in 2016, told the FIA team that the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case was closed in 2013 and referred to the official statement submitted by the SECP to the Supreme Court.

However, sources in FIA said that it was clear from the statements that after Mr. Hijazi took over as the chairman in Dec 2014, he reshuffled executives in the commission and closed the sugar mills inquiry after the initiation of the Panama Papers case.

This has caused a rift in the SECP since those related to the Enforcement Department maintain that the case was closed in 2016, while the official stance of the commission is that the case was closed in 2013.

The FIA team is expected to finalize and submit its report to the JIT on June 30 or July 1, 2017.

Maryam Nawaz is also scheduled to appear in front of the JIT for questioning. She is currently in London to attend her son’s graduation ceremony.

PTI chief Imran Khan, in a fiery press conference on Wednesday, put further pressure on the government.

“Indeed, national sovereignty will be harmed if he [Sharif] survives and continues to be the prime minister in the wake of the investigation in Panamagate case,” Khan told reporters.

Responding to the PM’s recent press conference, Khan rejected the PM’s assertion that Pakistanis would not accept any adverse decision, he said: “The nation is eagerly awaiting a decision against you (Nawaz Sharif). I challenge you to call the countrymen out on the streets.”

The political temperature continues to rise as the issue of Panama leaks and the JIT investigation is approaching its climax.