Panama Papers probe beyond NAB scope ISLAMABAD: It is beyond the scope of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to probe Panama Papers leaks which involved members of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family, Prosecutor General Waqas Qadeer Dar told a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The bench had taken up multiple petitions seeking the prime minister’s disqualification for allegedly holding assets in offshore companies. In its reply to the Supreme Court, NAB stated that action under the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, without prime facie evidence about the commission of an offence, would be premature.
The bench, headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, expressed dismay over the NAB’s stance on the issue and called its reply disappointing.
Read: Panama leaks wrongdoing will be hard to prove: State Bank
Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed deplored that the reply made it appear as if NAB expected complainants to gather the evidence themselves, through private detectives, and then approach the authority seeking a probe. He asked the prosecutor general to read Section 9(5) of NAO that allowed the authority to probe cases against any public office holder accused of amassing wealth beyond a known source of income.
Justice Amir Hani Muslim stressed that tax evasion and flight of capital outside Pakistan fell within the NAB’s purview.
“You want to say that it was not your duty to investigate [the case] unless someone provided complete evidence,” the chief justice regretted, adding that NAB was a national institution formed to undertake investigations of this nature. “Tell us what action you have taken so far in the Panama Papers scandal,” he said.
“What we have gathered from your reply is that you have decided not to do anything,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa regretted. “We have your message loud and clear that no authority wants to take action in this matter, and now, we will attend to it,” Justice Khosa resolved
In its report, NAB explained that opening inquiries against 600 Pakistanis whose names had appeared in the Panama Papers could amount to transgressing legal authority as the alleged action did not constitute an offence under the NAO 1999.
Allegations of tax evasion, illegal remittances from Pakistan, suspected siphoning off of capital through various companies registered in Pakistan into offshore companies could be investigated by relevant stakeholders, including the Federal Board of Revenue, the State Bank of Pakistan and the Securities Exchange Commission of Pakistan.
Referring to the complaints filed with NAB by Jamaat-i-Islami Sirajul Haq and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan on the Panama Paper leaks, the reply stated that the complainants had relied on information leaked purportedly through Messers Mossack Fonseca, a private law firm. “However there is no sanctity attached with the documents [that could substantiate] their genuineness, authenticity and ownership, and hence cannot be relied upon.”
The issue of the Panama Papers was also agitated from the forum of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by PTI member Dr Arif Alvi upon which notices were issued to the relevant regulators and stakeholders, including the State Bank of Pakistan, the SECP, the FBR, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NAB and FIA, the reply recalled.
The PAC had called heads of relevant departments and the FBR had discussed the issuance of notices and progress on the probe being conducted by his department. The SBP governor and the SECP chairman had also informed the PAC about the process it had started to determine illegalities if any.
A broad level data collection system, involving global networks, would be required for an investigation into the matter, the report explained.
In order to seek assistance from another country, it is a prerequisite to share evidence collected at the domestic level, for a specific offence which would also have to be an offence in the country as per its domestic law. NAB argued that the process could only be initiated after the completion of a preliminary probe by the relevant regulators.