Quist investigates and uncovers critical evidence in serious political corruption case against former head of state
Nawaz Sharif Corruption Case: A background and outline of the route to the criminal convictions of Nawaz Sharif and his family.
Quist was engaged by an investigation team in a high-profile inquiry to assist with an investigation into the paper trail and assets held in the UK uncovered by the Panama Papers scandal.
Quist’s analysis of the evidence and utilisation of forensic and other expert resources ultimately contributed to a central part of the investigation team’s report – which was filed with the Supreme Court of Pakistan and was relied upon in the subsequent successful prosecution.
Key evidence uncovered by Quist in the paper trail concerning the ownership of London properties established, amongst other things, the falsification of trust documents relied upon by the Sharif family and a fundamentally contradictory (and damaging) position previously adopted by the Sharif family in substantial High Court litigation concerning ownership of the assets in issue.
In April 2016, Nawaz Sharif’s place on the seat of power in Pakistan was rocked by the release of the Panama Papers, a scandal which engulfed many of the world’s leading politicians. The Panama Papers included the details of thousands of off-shore companies which had been set up and managed by Mossack Fonseca, a law firm based in Panama, to hide the wealth of countless celebrities and members of the world’s political and social elite.
Among the documents leaked were details of numerous companies registered in the British Virgin Isles and elsewhere. These companies were shown to be intrinsically linked to the Sharif family, with the Prime Minister’s sons and daughter, Hassan, Hussein and Maryam Sharif, being beneficiaries and shareholders of the companies which were set up during Sharif’s term in office.
These off-shore companies had been used to channel significant funds (the source of which was unclear) to purchase assets abroad. The funds passing through these companies had not been included in Nawaz Sharif’s ‘family wealth statement’ provided to the Pakistan Parliament, immediately arousing suspicions that the funds were intentionally hidden. Most notably, the companies had been used to purchase luxury properties in London’s exclusive Mayfair between 1993 and 1996. Again, these properties had not been declared by Nawaz Sharif in his wealth statement.
Following the Panama Papers scandal, Sharif made a public statement, claiming that the funds passing through the companies were funds from the sale of family businesses in the Gulf. After mounting public and media pressure to provide more specific details of the source of the funds, Sharif proposed the set up a ‘Judicial Committee’ to be headed by a former member of the judiciary to investigate the claims. Unsurprisingly, opposition parties were quick to criticise the proposed judicial committee, stating that Sharif had provided no details of how the judge to head the committee would be selected, how long the investigation was to take and the powers of investigation it would be given.
Unsatisfied with the government response to the Panama Papers, the leader of the opposition Imran Khan filed a petition against Sharif in the Pakistan Supreme Court. After initially refusing to hear the matter on administrative and constitutional grounds, the petition was resubmitted and the Supreme Court commenced hearing the case on 1st November 2016. The Supreme Court bench hearing the matter comprised 5 senior judges. In its opening arguments the Sharif family’s defence team confirmed that the Sharifs owned property abroad, resulting in the judicial bench calling for them to ‘satisfy [the bench] that the money to purchase [the properties] was earned and transferred lawfully’.
Maryam Sharif (widely accepted to be Nawaz Sharif’s political successor) claimed she was not a beneficial owner of any of the companies or properties, nor did she have any control over them. Maryam’s case centred on her claim that she was simply a trustee, who had held the properties on behalf of her brother, Hussein, since he acquired them in 2006.
Hussein Sharif claimed he had purchased the properties in 2006 using his inheritance from his grandfather (Nawaz Sharif’s father), which had included the proceeds of sale of his grandfather’s steel business in the UAE. Hussein further claimed that none of the entities or properties were beneficially owned by him or his family prior to 2006, despite the fact that the Sharif family had been using the properties and they appeared to have been in the family’s ownership since the early 1990s.
The Sharifs’ explanation as to how the funds were obtained dated back to Nawaz Sharif’s father, Mian Muhammed Sharif, who had set up steel mills in East and West Pakistan in the 1950s as one of the founders of the Ittefaq Group. After the East Pakistan steel mill was lost following the independence of Bangladesh, and the West Pakistan steel mill was nationalised by then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1972, it was claimed that Mian Sharif had decided to move his business interests overseas to the Gulf. Using a loan from the Pakistani founded BCCI Bank, it was claimed that Mian Sharif had opened the Gulf Steel Mill in Qatar, and later entered into a joint business venture with the Qatari royal family, the Al-Thanis.
As part of their on-going business relationship, it was claimed that the Al-Thanis had in fact owned the London properties, and had agreed to allow the Sharif family to use the properties on the basis that they paid all out-goings and maintained them on their behalf. Evidence in the form of a letter from former Prime Minster of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Al Jaber Thani was presented to the Supreme Court in support of the Sharifs’ claims. The letter stated that the London properties were owned absolutely by the Al-Thani family, having been bought by them through the offshore companies at the centre of the Panama Papers, and that the Al-Thani family continued to hold the bearer shares in these companies proving their ownership.
Following the consideration of evidence filed by both sides, in April 2017 the Supreme Court bench was split 3-2, finding that that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the London properties had been purchased with illegally sourced funds. However, the bench equally recognised that the evidence provided in the Sharifs’ defence was similarly inconclusive. Accordingly, the bench ordered the formation of a ‘Joint Investigation Team’ (‘JIT’), comprising 5 members appointed from the State Bank of Pakistan, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, the National Accountability Bureau, the Inter-Services Intelligence, the Military Intelligence and the Federal Investigation Agency. The JIT was allocated Rs 20 million and tasked with answering 13 specific questions in order to investigate the financial paper trail, starting from how the UAE steel mills were acquired by the Sharif family, through to how the funds from the sale of the mills resulted in the purchase of the luxury properties in London.
The 13 questions posed by the Supreme Court for the JIT’s investigation were:
- How was Gulf Steal Mills established?
- Under what circumstances were the Gulf Steal Mills (GSM) sold? And, what happened to the returns of GSM?
- How did the money earned from GSM and from its sale ended up in Qatar, Jeddah, and Great Britain?
- What happened to the dues, and arrears owed by GSM?
- Were Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz resourceful and capable enough to buy and own flats and properties in London in the 1990’s when Nawaz Sharif was in the Prime Minister’s office?
- Confirmation in relation to the letter provided by Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, including whether that letter is legitimate and real, and whether the contents or are myth or fabrication.
- The Supreme Court of Pakistan needs a clear answer as to the ownership of Nelson and Nescol. Who is the owner of these two companies?
- How did the bearer certificates of the offshore companies turn into flats in London?
- Where is the money trail and source of the millions of dollars that Hassan Nawaz got for Flagship company, and other businesses in London? Is there any transaction record to prove the flow of money?
- How was the Hill Metal Company established?
- What were the sources of money that Sharif family got to establish businesses like Flagship Investment, Hill Metal establishment, Nelson, Nescol, and other offshore companies?
- What were the sources and trail of money that Sharif family used to buy the expensive and large properties in London?
- How did Hussain Nawaz, who was a student in London, gift millions of dollars in cash several times to his father Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif?