Just too many lies
In the end they did not add up—the lies, that is. The pieces did not fit together because it was an empire, an industrial empire, built on evasions and misstatements going back to the years when this family, with help from what we call the establishment, first stepped into politics…or rather was brought into politics, anointed and glorified by Pakistan’s then military rulers.
Business was their first passion, their family concern, and even when fortune smiled on them and they became political players on the shoulders of the army and the ISI their first passion remained business and wealth accumulation, never mind the means. In the end it became undreamed of wealth, the original Ittefaq Foundry blossoming into a veritable empire.
Along the way, when the prime minister’s office came into their possession in 1990, eyes were set on accumulating wealth abroad. That is when the money-laundering—the details of this revealed in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case—happened, the prime instrument in this being Pakistan’s present finance minister, Ishaq Dar. When Dar was nabbed by the military after the October ‘99 takeover he took little time in spilling all the beans, his confessional statement running into more than forty pages— handwritten and contents never denied.
Basing his plea on a single bench Lahore High Court ruling, Dar says his statement is a piece of trash with no evidentiary value but, as noted above, he has never denied the contents of that self-written document which has lurid details of fake bank accounts in the name of a Qazi family opened in the Bank of America branch in Lahore. Huge amounts were deposited in those accounts and then transferred here and there.
Interestingly, when the Panama Papers were about to come out the Sharifs got wind of what was about to transpire. Out of the blue Hussain Nawaz gave a TV interview to an Islamabad-based journalist in which he admitted to owning a string of flats in London. That was the interview in which he said ‘Alhamdolillah’—thanks be to Allah—more than once.
Those of us who saw that interview were surprised. We all knew that the Sharifs owned property in London but here was a Sharif scion admitting to this fact. Why? In hindsight it is clear this was a preemptive move, to forestall the impact of the Panama Papers when they came out.
On Pakistan’s somnolent political landscape, with nothing much happening at the time and Nawaz Sharif looking so assured in power that sharp-eyed observers were saying that he had the next elections in his pocket, the Panama Papers came as a bombshell—with details of Sharif-operated offshore companies, and Mayfair flats owned under the cover of those companies. And who was the beneficial owner of those companies? None other than the prime minister’s daughter, Maryam Safdar, who in that famous interview given to Sana Bucha had said that what to talk of properties abroad she owned nothing in Pakistan.
If there was a time for damage control and some honesty it was then. If Nawaz Sharif had shown some moral courage he could have come clean and made an honest statement before the nation and chances are that the Pakistani people, who are given to wild swings of emotion, would have hailed him as a man of courage and truthfulness. But he did just the opposite…choosing to obfuscate, one inaccurate statement piled on top of the other. First in an address to the nation and then in the National Assembly he attempted what can only be described as a cover-up of the truth.
Look at the workings of fate. The president of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain, is someone who has been gifted the presidency by Nawaz Sharif. There was every reason for him to remain quiet about the Panama Papers. But while addressing a meeting in Hyderabad soon after the scandal broke he couldn’t help giving vent to his true feelings. He said that this was a visitation from the skies and many would be the names caught in this web. More prophetic words could not have been spoken.
This was much before the Supreme Court took up this case…much before the present JIT. Hussain Nawaz, the prime minister’s son, had an inkling of what was coming. And President Mamnoon Hussain had a premonition of the future.
Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali was under no compulsion to take up the Panama petitions. His term was about to end and he could just have sat on them, leaving them to be handled by his successor. But he took up the petitions and although nothing was decided the ball had been set rolling.
When the Joint Investigation Team was set up I thought the Sharif side had won. When had any investigation of the high and mighty come to anything in this country? I wrote a column ‘Farewell to Panama’. The JIT proved skeptics like me utterly wrong because it did what few people expected it to do: carry out an exhaustive investigation and, what no one believed, complete it within the stipulated 60-day deadline.
For the Sharifs—not just the prime minister but the entire family—it was a devastating indictment, setting out in graphic detail and backed by documentary evidence their conflicting statements.
The Sharif saga began in the 1980s. Now it is drawing to a close and what we are witnessing in the Supreme Court is the drop scene, the final countdown. The bluster and the bellicosity of the N League have gone. Forgotten too are the threats leveled by four senior PML-N ministers on the eve of the JIT report that if the evidence of the Qatari prince was not recorded they wouldn’t accept the report. Before the Supreme Court there couldn’t have been a tamer lot.
Bhutto went down fighting like a man. Informed by Rawalpindi Jail superintendent Yar Muhammad Duryana that his black warrant had arrived and he was to be hanged the next morning the colour left his face but he soon recovered and asked for a shaving kit because, as he told Duryana, he did not want to look like a maulvi when he died. It took courage and even audacity to say something like that at that hour.
Compare that to the sordidness revealed in this case…the squalid nature of the charges the Sharifs are accused of and their shifting positions. What takes the prize is the revelation that Nawaz Sharif—for reasons that escape at least me—possessed a working visa for the United Arab Emirates and he drew a salary of 10,000 dirhams a month as chairman of a Dubai-based company even when he was prime minister. Leave the shock of this to one side…it’s almost unbelievable, a prime minister caught doing something like that.
Whom the gods would destroy they first make ridiculous. We are seeing this happening in the case of the Sharifs.