Panama case: PM appears before JIT for questioning

Panama case: PM appears before JIT for questioning

ISLAMABAD: Breaking with established protocol, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reached the Federal Judicial Academy on Thursday in a three-vehicle convoy as opposed to his regular motorcade with several security vehicles  to appear before the Panama case Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

He was accompanied by his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, elder son Hussain Nawaz, Shehbaz’s son MNA Hamza Shehbaz, son-in-law MNA Capt (retd) Safdar, political secretary Asif Kirmani and principal secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad, among other officials.

After a brief talk with his entourage, the premier went into the academy building alone to proceed to the investigation room where the JIT holds its questioning. The premier was also reportedly carrying some files with him when he went in.

Those accompanying him then exited the venue, reportedly leaving only Kirmani behind.

Later, talking to Geo News, Kirmani said despite enjoying immunity from appearance, the PM did not use it. He said the PM has always respected the courts, adding that history has been made today.

Talking about the PM’s sons, Kirmani said they are not Pakistani citizens but still appeared for questioning. “If the PM’s son did not show up who could have done anything about it,” he wondered.

Kirmani also clarified that the premier travelled to the academy in his private vehicles today.

Earlier, the PM chaired a high-level consultative session where the Punjab chief minister, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan were in attendance.

After the meeting, the premier said “We have been held accountable in all tenures and even now, are ready for accountability,” according to sources.

The PM also reportedly said that his opponents fail to realise that Pakistan matters most to him. “I don’t want anything to hamper the country’s progress,” he said, and also expressed his indifference about protocol and security.

The JIT is probing the premier’s family’s global money trail in light of the Supreme Court’s April 20 judgment in the Panama Papers case.

Extraordinary security arrangements have been put in place in and around the academy, where the JIT secretariat is based.

The Islamabad Police, along with Rangers and other law enforcement personnel, had drawn up a special security and traffic plan for the premier’s visit.

A total of 2,668 security personnel, including 400 from the FC and 180 from the Punjab Rangers, have been deployed for the event. A security cordon has been put in place around the building, with special entry for the media only.

The Islamabad Traffic Police on Wednesday also issued a special traffic plan, so citizens going in and out of Sector H-8 are not inconvenienced.

However, once the PM arrived at the venue, the main Islamabad Expressway was blocked for traffic with vehicles lining up for several kilometres.

Earlier, sources said the security staff of Prime Minister (PM) House completed a security sweep of the academy as well as the investigation room prior to the visit.

A bullet-proof dais has also been erected in front of the academy, where the premier is expected to address the media afterwards.

Sources also said that the PM House security staff, as well as the premier’s personal staff, will not be permitted to accompany the prime minister into the building.

Earlier this week, the premier received a summons from the JIT over its high-profile probe in light of the Supreme Court’s April 20 verdict.

In its summons, the JIT had asked the premier to bring “all relevant records, documents and material” with him.

Following the summons, the premier asked all his supporters and party workers to refrain from gathering at the academy during his appearance.

However, despite the PM’s ‘request’, a small contingent of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supporters managed to reach the academy “in love for their leader”. Around a dozen women leaders and workers were also chanting slogans in favour of the PM ahead of his arrival.

The probe so far

The Supreme Court began investigating Sharif late last year after the main political parties failed to agree on a committee to probe the Panama Papers leaks, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan threatened mass protests and to ‘shut down Islamabad’.

In its April 20 judgment, the five-member Supreme Court bench ruled that there was insufficient evidence to remove Sharif from office on the back of the Panama Papers leaks, but it ordered further investigations under a JIT.

The JIT team is headed by Federal Investigation Agency Additional Director Wajid Zia, and includes members from Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, State Bank of Pakistan and the National Accountability Bureau.

Other summons

Previously, the PM’s elder son,Hussain, and younger son, Hassan,have appeared before the JIT five and two times, respectively.

The PM’s brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, has also been summoned for questioning on June 17. Similarly, the PM’s son-in-law, MNA Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar, has been summoned on June 24.

Moreover, former interior minister Senator Rehman Malik is also expected to appear before the JIT on June 23.

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