Pakistan’s Panamagate: How it all unfolded

Azhar Khan

The Panama Papers scandal unraveled to the world with shock and Pakistan was no exception especially when its ruling elite were discovered to have stashed their wealth offshore.

The leaked papers, comprising 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, exposed how some of the world’s most powerful people have secreted their money offshore, and also implicated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s sons Hasan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz.

The revelations in a report released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) dropped like a bombshell on the government on April 4, 2016, prompting countrywide debate whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should stay in office after startling disclosures concerning stashed wealth of his family.

Here’s how the Panama Papers storm unraveled in the country:

Secret accounts that spark nationwide outcry

The storm of Panama Papers erupted in Pakistan after ICIJ released documents showing offshore properties of the ruling Sharif family, triggering nationwide media debate.

The ICIJ reports said that, “Three children of former and current Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – Mariam, Hasan and Hussain– were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several companies.”

“Mariam Safdar was the owner of British Virgin Islands-based firms Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited, incorporated in 1994 and 1993,” it reads.

The report said that the daughter and sons of Nawaz Sharif “did not respond to repeated requests for comments”.

A day after Panama storm: PM announces judicial probe

A day after Panama Papers caused intense debate over offshore wealth of the ruling family, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the nation on April 5 and announced to form a judicial commission to probe the leaks.

“Hassan and Hussain then started their businesses with this capital,” explained the prime minister. “Hassan resides in UK since 1994 and Hussain in Saudi Arabia since 2000, and both are doing their businesses legally.”

The premier said a few elements are targeting him and his family to achieve their political objectives and for this purpose ’25-year-old accusations’ are once again given a hype on media.

Sharif’s another address to the nation over ‘damaging leaks’

Mr. Sharif said on April 22 that he would ask the Supreme Court to set up an investigation into revelations about his finances made in the leaked Panama Papers, bowing to opposition demands to strengthen the inquiry.

Sharif had already set up a commission that he promised will clear him of allegations, based on leaked documents from a Panama law firm, that offshore companies headed by members of his family were avoiding paying taxes or disguising assets.

“I have decided that I will write a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court so that he can appoint a commission for the investigation of this matter, so that those who are making these demands ... can see the extent of our innocence,” Sharif said in a rare televised address to the nation.

Nawaz Sharif proposes commission to probe Panama Papers

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the parliament on May 16, 2016 and announced to form a commission to investigate allegations stemming from the Panama Papers leak but opposition lawmakers walked out, saying he had evaded questions about his family’s affairs.

Sharif had been under pressure since documents released as part of the Panama Papers data leak showed his children owned several off-shore companies and used them to buy properties in London. He denies wrongdoing, as do his children.

“I can say with surety that ... not a single penny went out of Pakistan,” Sharif told the parliament.

Sharif asked the opposition and other lawmakers to help form a parliamentary commission.

Govt, Opposition deal over probe ToRs

The federal government and the opposition on May 18 agreed to form a 12 member committee in order to draft joint terms of reference (ToR) for an inquiry commission, which would probe Panama papers.

“Government will name six legislators while the opposition will name another six to form the parliamentary committee, a motion will be passed on Thursday in the assembly to legalise the committee’s status,” Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed told media after meeting opposition members.

PTI mounts pressure on govt, announces ‘Islamabad blockade’

On September 30, PTI chairman compounded problems for the government after he announced to stage sit-in at Raiwand on November 2.

The PTI chief gave PM Nawaz Sharif an ultimatum to present himself for accountability over Panama papers scandal before Muharram or face Islamabad blockade.

“Get ready to go to Islamabad. We will proceed to shut Islamabad after Muharram,” Imran told his party men.

Terming Nawaz Sharif a ‘liar’, he asked the participants of the rally to come out on streets against him as “people power have beaten Pharaohs like Egyptian military leader Hosni Mubarak”.

He blamed the PM for lying about his assets and his family members’ offshore firms on the floor of assembly and questioned as to how PM’s daughter Maryam Nawaz could own flats in London when she is declared a ‘dependent’ in papers.

Supreme Court intervenes, takes up petitions against PM

The Supreme Court of Pakistan issued notices to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the parties concerned on October 20.

The apex court took up petitions in the case, seeking disqualification of the prime minister as leader of the government and his family members.

Apart of PTI, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Barrister Zafarullah Khan of Watan Party also filed petitions in the same case.

Sharifs submit replies to SC,

On Nov 7, Maryam Nawaz categorically denied holding any offshore company in her reply. According to lawyer Salman Aslam Butt, Maryam Nawaz was also not a dependent child of the prime minister.

Similarly, Hussain and Hasan Nawaz in their respective replies said they had been working and living overseas for several years within the law. Both the sons of PM Nawaz also rejected the allegations of corruption made by the PTI Chairman Imran Khan.

PTI submits documents against Sharifs

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on November 14 submitted documentary evidence against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family in the Panamagate case.

The documents allege that the premier’s family has laundered Rs145 million since 1988 through illegal hundi/hawala business in order to evade taxes.

During this period of money laundering of Rs145m, the documents claim, “Sharif paid only Rs897 in income tax”.

Khan claimed in the documents comprising 686 pages that the Sharif family sent an amount of over Rs56m out of the country between 1988 and 1991.

A dramatic twist: Enters the Qatari prince letter

The Sharif family submitted before the Supreme Court on November 16 letter from a Qatari prince giving explanation for how the Sharif family paid for its London properties.

Mohammad Akram Sheikh, presented before the court an attested letter from a former Qatari prime minister.

Mr Sheikh had pulled out a document dated Nov 5, 2016 — marked private, confidential and not to be disclosed to any party, except for the benefit of the courts of Pakistan — on the letterhead of Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani, who ruled Qatar from 2007 to 2013.

The letter states that Hamad’s father — Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani — had “longstanding business relations with Mian Mohammad Sharif” — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s father — “which were coordinated through my eldest brother”. In the year 1980, “Mian Sharif expressed his desire to invest a certain amount of money in real estate business of Al Thani family in Qatar,” the document said.

Back to square one as CJ retires

The court on December 9 had to adjourn the proceedings to the first week of January because the chief justice was reaching superannuation on Dec 30 and will not hold court after Dec 15 when a farewell full court reference will be held for him.

New bench hears Panama case

A new Supreme Court (SC) larger bench led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa resumed the hearing of ‘Panama Papers Leaks’ case on January 4 from where it was left last year by a previous bench.

The top court asked: During which years, Nawaz Sharif held the positions of a minister and chief minister in Punjab and prime minister of the country?

“During a 1997 interview, the premier had said that he would remain distant from his business, but he kept on doing politics and business at the same time,” Justice Khosa continued in the court.

The bench also sought details about prime minister’s years in exile.

Another Letter from Qatari Prince letter: A clarification of business ties with Sharif

On January 26, a second letter signed by Qatari royal Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al-Thani submitted to the Supreme Court attempted to offer up clarification on the Sharif family’s business ties and money trail in the Middle East.

Al-Thani says PM Nawaz’s father, Mian Muhammad Sharif, made an investment of approximately 12 million dirhams in the Al-Thani family’s real estate business.

“The investment was made by way of provision of cash which was common practice in the Gulf region at the time of the investment. It was also, given the longstanding relationship between my father and Mr Sharif, a customary way for them to do business between themselves,” it said.

Supreme Court grills FBR and NAB

The apex court bench on February 21 inquired into the investigative steps that were taken by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Board of Revenue after the matter surfaced last year.

FBR Chairman Muhammad Irshad told the court that notices were issued to 343 individuals following the Panama Papers leaks.

The lawyer representing the FBR then admitted before the court that no immediate steps were taken, after the court asked him of major steps taken by the FBR.

But the court expressed dismay over NAB’s stand on the issue.

“If NAB does not have the authority to investigate, who does?” Justice Ijazul Hassan asked rhetorically.

Court irked by ‘changing stories’

The Supreme Court’s five-member bench asked the attorney general representing government that the lawyers were issuing different statements each time, which was confusing the bench.

Justice Saeed asked the attorney general to if the “story has been made up, you just stick to it.”

SC reserves verdict

Supreme Court reserved verdict on Feb 23, to be announced later. On April 18, it was announced that the anxiously-awaited verdict of the case will be made public on April 20.

The Background

The leaked papers, comprising 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, exposes how some of the world’s most powerful people have secreted their money offshore, and also implicated Sharif’s sons Hasan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz.

Three of Sharif’s four children are named in the Panama Papers – daughter Maryam, who has been tipped to be his political successor and sons Hasan and Hussain – with the records showing they owned London real estate through offshore companies administered by Mossack Fonseca.

The Panama Papers have whipped up a storm of controversy over offshore wealth, ensnaring political leaders, sports figures and underworld members across the globe in the scandal.