Govt not Cooperating with its own Broadsheet Panel

Govt not Cooperating with its own Broadsheet Panel

Ministries of law, finance as well as AGP have not yet provided relevant records

The federal government is not cooperating with the commission of inquiry it formed itself in January to probe into the Broadsheet scandal as the Ministry of Law, the Ministry of Finance and the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) office have not provided it the relevant records.

According to sources, only the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) – which acquired the services of the Broadsheet LLC, an assets recovery firm, in 2000 – has provided records to the one-man inquiry commission headed by apex court former judge, Azmat Saeed Sheikh.

The inquiry commission has recorded testimonies of international law expert Ahmar Bilal Sufi as well as Shahid Baig, who served as director audit and accounts at the Pakistan High Commission in London when the Pakistan government paid to the Broadsheet a penalty on the order of a UK court.

The commission has so far recorded testimonies of a total of 18 witnesses. It is likely to complete the investigation by March 23 if it receives the records on time, said one of the sources.

Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Law has sent a summary with regard to the salary and other perks of the inquiry panel chief to the federal cabinet for its approval. It has recommended that the former judge be give the salary and perks that he enjoyed as the Supreme Court judge.

The sources said the ministry had not “forgotten” to include the clause with regard to the remuneration of the commission chairman in the terms of references (ToRs) of the commission. Therefore, it had to move a separate summary in this regard. The commission formally started its work on February 9.

The federal government notified the one-man inquiry commission along with its TORs on January 30. According to the notification, the commission was empowered to constitute committees consisting of government officials and experts.

The commission was to probe into the contracts signed by NAB with the Broadsheet LLC and other international asset recovery (IAR) firms to unearth foreign assets made by Pakistanis through ill-gotten money. It was also to look into the reasons which led NAB to terminate the contract in 2003.

The federal cabinet on January 26 agreed to form the one-man commission under the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 2017 with a broader mandate.

Earlier the government had announced to appoint Justice (retd) Sheikh as head of an “inquiry committee” to examine the circumstances relating to the NAB’s agreement with the UK’s assets recovery firm and the subsequent arbitration proceedings that caused considerable loss to Pakistan.

The two major opposition parties – the PML-N and the PPP – had rejected the government’s decision, citing Justice (retd) Sheikh’s past affiliation with NAB as creating a “conflict of interest”.

The Broadsheet LLC was incorporated in the Isle of men to help Pervez Musharraf’s government and the newly established NAB track down foreign assets purchased by Pakistanis through ill-gotten wealth.

After NAB terminated the contract in 2003, the Broadsheet LLC and another company involved as a third party filed for damages in a UK court.

It claimed that Pakistan owed them money according to the terms agreed upon since the government was taking action to confiscate some of the assets they had identified, including the Avenfield property owned by the family of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

The companies’ claims against Pakistan were held valid by an arbitration court in 2016 and later by a United Kingdom high court that gave an award of over $28 million against Pakistan last year.

Broadsheet LLC arbitration decision came in 2016 – the same year when the Panama Papers had rocked Pakistan. However, nobody knew about it until a court in the United Kingdom ordered authorities to deduct $28.7 million from Pakistan High Commission’s account in London.