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JIT accused of tapping phones of witnesses

By Nasir Iqbal 2017-06-17
ISLAMABAD: Blame game seems to have become the order of the day and Friday was the turn of Prime Minister House that accused the joint investigation team (JIT) probing the Panama Papers case of phone tapping and monitoring of witnesses a violation of the law and the Constitution.

`The reliance and reference to `technical analysis` is indeed an admission by JIT of phone tapping and monitoring of witnesses, a violation of the law and the Constitution,` said the PM House inits rejoinder to the JIT application in which it had accused some government institutions of creating impediments in its work and tampering with relevant documents.

The PM House`s rejection of allegations is part of Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf`s four-page rejoinder to the JIT application, submitted to the Supreme Court on Friday.

A three-judge SC bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan had asked the AG to submit his reply to the application.

The PM House denied the allegations that it tutored witnesses and persons whowere being summoned by the JIT constituted under the April 20 Supreme Court judgement to probe allegations stemming from Panama Papers leaks.

In its application, the JIT had alleged that witnesses were being tutored at the behest of the Sharif family and confidential letters were being leaked by misusing the PM House. The chief executive officer of the Ittefag Group a close associate of the prime minister directed Tariq Shafi, the cousin of Nawaz Sharif, to come to the Prime Minister House prior to appearing before the JIT, it alleged.

In its denial, the PM House said, if needed, the persons being named were willing to file rejoinders.

Similarly, it denied that the PM House had leaked summons issued by the JIT and said the summons might have been leaked by the team itself or the JIT staff.

Nevertheless, it said, such summons were matter of public knowledge and their leak did not in any manner hamper investigations as alleged.

The AG`s reply also contained the rejoinder of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) which denied hacking the Facebook account of a JIT member, Bilal Rasool, or his fam11y members or any other member of the team. `Low-downs on members of JIT was done under the standard operating procedures,` it said and also denied the allegations that IB field staff were found loitering outside the residence of Mr Rasool on May 24.

Likewise the law ministry also rejected allegations levelled by the JIT against it and said that the letter of mutual legal assistance was issued in record threeday time.

Documents show that JIT members were aware of the rules of business that circulation of the necessary correspondence was to be made by the Foreign Office and the interior ministry under Rule 56 of the Rules of Business 1973.

The Federal Board of Revenue stated that for the first time, the JIT requested it for the record on May 8 and later reiterated the request on May 25, 29 and June 8. Though the information was related to old record spanning over 40 years and several individuals, it was provided within the minimum time period.

TheNationalAccountabilityBureau (NAB) denied that a show-cause notice had been issued to one of the JIT members with mala fide intent. The notice was issued to Naeem Mangi and 77 other persons pursuant to an order of the Supreme Court that too prior to the formation of the JIT, NAB said.

The Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and its chairman rebuffed the allegations against them and said that the investigation against the Chaudhry Sugar Mills was closed in 2013. Thus the allegation of tamper-ing with the record was prima facie incorrect.

The correspondence for mutual legal assistance clearly showed that the investigations were closed in 2013 well before the appointment of the incumbent chairman of the SECP, it said.

The AG reply said that the JIT`s complaint spread over 120 pages and the annexure appended with the application ranged from articles published in newspapers, screenshots of statements, tweets and messages on social media.

It appeared that a lot of time and energy had been consumed in gathering the material and the JIT had spent time watching talk shows, reading articles and monitoring tweets and messages on social media, arranging the same in a systematic manner and translating the same where deemed necessary, the AG reply said.

It said the allegations of bias and high-handedness had been levelled against some members of the JIT. The team has also levelled serious allega-tions of obstruction of justice against individuals and institutions.

All those institutions had vehemently denied the allegations, it said, adding decisions on the JIT application could not be given without the named parties being put to notice and recording of evidence. It essentially might consume considerable time and the focus of the matter was likely to be diverted, the AG said.

Thus the matter could be taken up with the final report of the JIT, which was bound to be handed down within the time frame prescribed by the court order, he said.

The AG also informed the court that Nehal Hashmi had been stripped of his membership of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and an FIR had been lodged against him.

The AG assured the court that his office would ensure that orders of the implementation bench would be complied with and all efforts would be made to ensure that a fair and impartial Inquiry took place within the stipulated period.