August 11 , 2017


JIT spent 97.14% of budget sanctioned for Panama probe
By Muhammad Asad Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD: The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) had spent 97.14 percent of the budget provided for the investigations, but legal experts believe that the actual expenses during the course of investigation were much higher than this figure.

The JIT had debited a total amount of Rs 19,428,373 from an account dedicated by the federal government to meet its expenses. However, the Supreme Court Registrar and international firms hired by the JIT to assist in its investigation are reluctant to make the details of the amount received or spent public.

The five-member team was probing the financial corruption of a sitting prime minister of Pakistan and his family members. Avoiding information sharing regarding financial transactions made by the JIT to international firms is creating serious doubts on the transparency of this high-profile team and its findings.

On May 5, 2017, a three-member implementation bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Panama Papers case had directed the federal government to initially provide an amount to the tune of Rs 20 million immediately so that the JIT may not feel handicapped in its movement in any direction. In pursuance of the court orders, the Finance Division had opened a special assignment account titled Joint Investigation Team having account number 414183356 at the Civic Centre branch of the National Bank of Pakistan in Islamabad.

The account was opened in the names of Supreme Court Registrar and the head of the JIT, Wajid Zia, and the court allowed the head of the JIT to be deemed as principal accounting officer for its smooth functioning.

The details of said account available with this scribe show that the JIT members debited a total amount of Rs 19,428,373 time to time during its proceedings. The said account was deactivated on July 22, 2017, after twelve days of the submission of the JIT's report in the apex court.

Sources confirmed that the last available balance in this account was only Rs 571,627, which has been returned to the national exchequer as per the laid down procedure.

Legal experts practicing in the UK were of the view that the financial transactions of the JIT should be made public to ensure transparency. Most of them, while talking to Daily Times, on the condition of anonymity, were of the view that the actual expenditure on the whole investigation must be much higher than the amount withdrawn from the aforementioned account.

Wajid Zia is already under fire for acquiring the services of his cousin's law firm 'Quist London' to pursue the mutual legal assistance (MLA) requests by the JIT in different offices of the UK.

As per the details available in the JIT report, it had hired the services of a number of firms and individuals to achieve specific goals.

In addition to Quist Solicitors in the United Kingdom, the Radley Forensic Document Laboratory was also hired by the JIT for the forensic examination of papers submitted by the Sharif family and the same firm had spotted the 'Calibri font' controversy.

Another consultant law firm named Guernica Justice International Chambers was engaged to acquire 'source documents' regarding Hill Metal Establishment (HME) in Jeddah.

The services of unknown solicitor firms of British Virgin Islands (BVI) and United Kingdom were also on the disposal of the JIT to pursue the queries in these countries, while some of the JIT members had also visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during the investigation.

Meanwhile, the JIT in its volume-VII regarding Flagship Investment Limited and Companies had also mentioned that information was collected by the JIT through its own source but it did not disclose the name of these 'own sources'.

Daily Times tried to find out some specific details regarding the JIT's expenses and sent separate information requests to Quest Solicitors, the Radley Forensic Document Laboratory, Guernica Justice International Chambers and the Supreme Court registrar.

Our information requests demanded the details of amount received by these international firms against their services from the JIT and also submitted that if the specific information cannot be shared, whatsoever the reasons, these international firms at least share their routine 'fee charges against such services'.

In response, Robert Radley of the Radley Forensic Document Laboratory responded, but refused to share the details and only said, "Sorry, I am unable to assist you", while Guernica Justice International Chambers in its response stated, "We are not in a position to comment on the issues that you raise, as such information is confidential in nature."

However, the Quist Solicitors and the Supreme Court Registrar did not bother to respond. The right to a fair trial demands that the financial matters of the JIT should be made public, as a fair trial is the best means of separating the guilty from the innocent and protecting them against injustice.

Without this right, the rule of law and public faith in the justice system collapse. The right to a fair trial is one of the cornerstones of a just society.


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