Accountability has the taste of arsenic, especially if you are at the receiving end. The suspended chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), Zafar Hijazi, found himself feasting on this poisonous concoction even when the meal was not meant for him.
He is accused of tampering official records for the Sharif family with no immediate or apparent benefits for himself. This places him squarely in the box seat of what the opposition termed a league of conspirators, trying to protect Nawaz Sharif and his children from any blame of wrongdoing.
In a report submitted to the Supreme Court on June 12 by the joint investigation team (JIT) probing the Panama Papers’ case, investigators claimed SECP records pertaining to the Chaudhry Sugar Mills – owned by the family of Nawaz Sharif – were tampered with.
They also claimed that the examination of witnesses suggested the deed was done at the behest of the commission’s chairman. Hijazi denied the allegations, claiming instead that other SECP employees – Maheen Fatima and Abid Hussain – changed the records without any pressure or directives from him. But the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team tasked to probe the matter further validated the JIT’s findings.
The FIA told the court that Hijazi had given verbal orders, as was his usual practice, to put a backdated note in a file stating that a probe into the mills’ financial affairs was closed down in 2013. This was a blatant attempt to set the record straight retrospectively. More recently, Fatima alleged Hijazi had locked her in a room on June 14 and forced her to change her statement to the FIA. She claimed he only let her go after other officers of the commission intervened.
On July 17, a court granted Hijazi a five-day pre-arrest bail, following which he was remanded into the custody of the FIA. During his time in detention, his lawyer argued Hijazi was unwell and that his health would deteriorate further if he was kept in custody. He, however, managed to earn more ire than sympathy during his medical examination. His relatives and the FIA team were accused of mishandling two journalists who went to cover his visit to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in the federal capital.
A chartered account by profession, Hijazi is said to be a close friend of deposed Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. He took charge of the SECP on December 19, 2014 and has previously served as its commissioner from January 1, 1999 to December 31, 2003. His appointment in the SECP during two tenures of Nawaz Sharif is indicative of his proximity to the disqualified prime minister. He, of course, is not the only person holding an important technocratic post by virtue of his cordial relations with Sharif and Dar.
Saeed Ahmad, president of the National Bank of Pakistan, is said to be one of the key characters in the money laundering allegations against the Sharifs. A resolution recently passed in the Senate sought the dismissal of State Bank of Pakistan Governor Tariq Bajwa for being a Dar associate. The opposition’s criticism is that these appointments are not meant to make institutions stronger but rather to protect the personal interests of the Sharif family when needed.
The government has taken many arrows in the chest in the past few months, but the one that seared its heart has come from its own bow. In trying to extricate himself from the Panama case, Nawaz Sharif deprived himself of earnest advice and instead allegedly resorted to forgery, perjury and record tampering.
He did so under the false notion of political invincibility that could see him through months of street agitation, through damning evidence on accumulation of wealth beyond known sources of income. But optics matter. And the mirror held up to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is showing what it does not want to see.
The ruling party’s refrain of ‘democracy is in danger’ has been drowned out by its vociferous defence of what is indefensible. Oscar Wilde would have advised Sharif to not bring morality to bear upon his case. “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame,” as the sage noted.
This was originally published in the Herald's August 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.