JIT probing into London properties of Pak PM’s family cries media-wolf

Islamabad: As a high-level probe into alleged corruption of sitting prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif and his family enters crucial stage, political temperature is on the rise in Pakistan with anti-probe remarks by premier and his party creating fear of violence in coming days.

Moreover, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) looking into the matter also complained against “hampering and hindering” by government institutions. JIT also reports how government is also pressuring the team through organized media campaign involving negative criticism on probe which is creating a “barrier”, in its 12-pages compliant, urging the apex court of the country, which is supervising the probe, to take action.

JIT, formed on the orders of Supreme Court of Pakistan, these days, is grilling Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif and his family for proving a legal money trail for the purchase of luxurious flats in London on a prime land. The properties were exposed in Panama Papers last years. The papers, exposed by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) as a project, listed many influential political figures of the world acquiring illegal properties in other countries through offshore companies. In Pakistan, after several weeks of Supreme Court hearing on the matter, the final verdict ending up demanded a high level probe team for further investigations.

The highly scrutinized probe from media and civil society factions is scheduled to conclude by July 10, submitting its final report before the SC bench for appropriate action the allegations leveled on PM’s family. JIT comprises of one representative from federal Investigation Agency, National Accountability Bureau, State Bank of Pakistan, Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Inter Services Intelligence, and Military Intelligence. There are also speculations in media of involvement of ISI and MI, through court.  However, Pakistan army has thus far dismissed any claims of involvement in the matter.

As the JIT probe has entered final phase by summoning PM Sharif, and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, sitting chief minister of the largest province of Punjab, media speculation on are escalating. In the last week of his deadline, JIT has summoned PM’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, considered as political successor of the PM, and re-summoned premier’s two sons for a final statement.

On June 25, in a hard hitting statement in London, PM Sharif denounced the joint investigation team’s (JIT) probe into his and his family members’ offshore assets as a ‘farce’. “Whatever that is happening in Pakistan is not accountability. It is nothing but a farce,” he told reporters at his UK residence. “Our worst enemies are being called in by the JIT to testify. It is evident what they want,” he said in his reported statement.

Earlier, many cabinet members of Sharif have also verbally attacked JIT in public statement for the past few weeks, followed by a media debate on the issue.

Political scientist and prominent analyst of the country, Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi views the political situation is worsening day by day with the JIT proceedings. “It seems prime minister believes that the JIT report will not be in its favour and that is why they are damaging the credibility of JIT through a campaign which appears systemic,” he says, citing recent harsh statement of PM Sharif against the probe after his son-in-law appeared before JIT. PM maintains that if charges against his family are proven in the investigations, it shall not be acceptable.

Justice Ejazul Ahsan, one of the SC judges, supervising JIT proceedings, in a recent hearing, observed “We know that the biggest campaign is being run on media to attack SC and JIT. We are aware of it and we will sort this out after finishing JIT task.” In another remark, another judge Ejaz Afzal said, “Media cannot regulate us and define our jurisdiction. We dam care what media says or want to manipulate. We will do our job without any pressure.”

More than 90 percent content of the report highlights press clippings, articles criticizing JIT probe and its jurisdiction, comments of government functionaries and other analysts and anchorpersons on talk shows, tweets of different media, political and  civil society groups, a copy of the report available with TT shows. The complaint alleges government to back media campaigns to hamper and impede the accountability process.

Prayer of the JIT complaint mad before SC also includes urging the court to “order a suitable action against officer/officials of the departments concerned a segment of those who unfairly publicly comment in the media in relation to the JIT and SC, in the context as explained (above).”

JIT objected to media coverage of the proceedings of the SC implementation bench complaining “the news reports were creating hindrance in the way of the investigation.”

Besides, media clippings and monitoring of talk shows, the JIT report included WhatsApp messages and Facebook statuses criticizing JIT role and proceedings.

JIT has tantamount a tweet containing Holy Quran verse by daughter of PM to belittle JIT and SC disparage the matter. An image attached with the tweet contains Arabic text, translated as “Allah is sufficient for us, and He is the best disposer of affairs.”

Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali, replying to these “impediments”, criticized JIT wasting too much time and effort monitoring the electronic and social media rather than unearthing facts behind the allegations.

Askari believes media polarization is not new in Pakistan. It was well noticed in 1970s against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and then went on. “However, this time we see this polarization very sharp. Also because of presence of vibrant electronic media this time,” he said, adding, “And the situation after the expansion of JIT proceedings one can see drum beating in media on government’s tune.” He said JIT feels this campaign is damaging them and is attempt to make it controversial by the government.

“In coming days we can see more polarization in media and if the JIT report went against PM there are chances of political violence in the country too,” Askari feared.

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