Panama Papers probe ‘could take months’


Panama Papers probe ‘could take months’ ISLAMABAD: An investigation into the revelations contained in the Panama Papers could take several months as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has proposed a multi-stage investigation by key institutions and agencies into a scandal that named, among others, the children of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as owners of offshore companies.

Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah, who is also the PAC chairman, said the committee would take all the necessary steps to ensure the attendance of the heads of key institutions, including the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the foreign secretary.

On Sept 1, the PAC Secretariat issued notices to the aforementioned individuals, as well as the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Ministry of Finance, asking their respective heads to attend the committee meeting.

However, when the PAC commenced proceedings on Thursday, committee secretary Arif Azim told the chairman that the SBP deputy governor was present instead of the governor. Similarly, the SECP commissioner was representing the chairman, the additional director general of the economic crimes wing was attending in lieu of the FIA director general, and the special secretary from the Foreign Office was attending instead of the federal secretary.

Matter to be taken up again on 20th as heads of key institutions failed to make it to Thursday’s meeting

A visibly enraged Mr Shah asked the committee secretary why the invited officials were absent, to which Mr Azim replied that the SBP governor and SECP chairman were in Karachi, while the foreign affairs secretary had another appointment.

However, Mr Shah argued that “according to the rules” the PAC should have been given preference “even over the meeting of the federal cabinet”.

He directed the PAC secretary to issue a summons to the SBP governor, SECP chairman, FIA director general and foreign affairs secretary, and ask them to submit a written explanation for their absences.

He warned that if the committee was not satisfied with their explanations, it would exercise its powers against the officials. He did not elaborate on what actions the PAC could take against officials for deliberate absences, but in a prior meeting, the chairman said the committee could send any individual to prison for three months for disrespect.

“It is a disrespect to the PAC and parliament that the heads of the SBP, FIA, SECP and foreign affairs ministry did not attend its proceedings despite the fact that they were given notices on September 1,” he said.

Although the PAC has previously allowed the deputy governor to represent the governor of the SBP, Mr Shah said on Thursday that the second in command may be allowed to speak before the committee in certain situations, in these circumstances – when the heads of key institutions have been invited for such an important matter – their absence could not be ignored.

PAC member Sahabzada Mohammad Sultan told Mr Shah that the PAC has been called “toothless”, a label Mr Shah attributed to the committee’s “leniency”. Without naming the previous PAC chairman, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who was comparatively harsher on bureaucrats, Mr Shah said: “Previously, the bureaucracy never even thought of skipping even a single PAC meeting.”

Sheikh Rohail Asghar, another committee member from the PML-N, advised Mr Shah to calm down and rather than issue summons to senior officers, direct the secretariat to issue notices.

He said if some officials were accompanying the prime minister and therefore could not attend the committee meeting, they should not be taken to task.

Earlier, Mr Azim told the committee chairman the SBP governor had sent the deputy governor due to the prime minister’s visit to Karachi.

Out of 11 PML-N committee members, seven were present during the meeting. One of them, Rana Afzal Hussain, attended the meeting despite being unwell, saying he “could not skip” the meeting.

After the meeting began, Dr Arif Ali – who requisitioned the meeting on the Panama Papers revelations – sought permission from Mr Shah to speak on the matter; however he was told that since the heads of key institutions were absent, the committee would take up the matter again on September 20.

Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, a committee member from the PML-Q and a latecomer to the meeting, told the media that the absence of the SBP governor, SECP chairman, FIA director general and other was deliberate.

“It was a collective decision and cannot be termed a mere coincidence,” he said.

He said the officials were informed of the meeting on September 1, giving them ample time to ensure their attendance.


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