The disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has become controversial due to allegedly leaked audio of Saqib Nisar, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP). He is allegedly heard saying that he gave instructions to pass sentence to former PM in Panama case because “institutions” ordered him to do so. He added that it had to be done regardless of the fact that it was fair or not. The context of the leaked conversation dates back to the time when the Sharif family was under trial in the Accountability Court in July 2018. It was only a few months before the general elections in which Imran Khan won.
According to reports, the institutions allegedly wanted Imran Khan as Prime Minister so decided to penalize the former leader. Nisar was the CJP at that time so he was the one who instructed to convict both Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz. Nisar can also be heard talking to another unknown person, who seemed concerned about convicting Maryam. Then Nisar responded by saying that he also talked to his “friends” about this but they were fully determined to go through with their plan.
Leaked Audio of Saqib Nisar is not Independently Verified
The news outlets of Pakistan could not independently verify the authenticity of the leaked audio of Saqib Nisar. Critics argued that the clip seemed fabricated by joining together several parts of speeches by Nisar and editing the rest. Former CJP also denied that it was not his voice and he never spoke to the other person in the tape. The term “institution” informally refers to the military establishment of Pakistan that allegedly puppeteers everything ranging from politics to the judiciary. Nisar said that the tape was fabricated and ISI or Army never contacted him or pressured him to do anything. He also added that he had no reason to do something like that to Nawaz Sharif as he had no grudges against him.
The original publisher of the report, Fact Focus claimed that it obtained the leaked audio of Saqib Nisar 2 months ago. It then submitted the audio to American specialist, Garret Discovery for forensic analysis. According to the American firm’s analysis report, the audio file was genuine and not edited in any way. The firm based its conclusion on multiple reasons. First, it said that it could not detect any visual splices that may be present in fabricated audio. An audio splice creates a black space in the spectrogram which it could not see in the graph of the recording. Secondly, it also could not detect the use of any popular editing software like Audacity and Adobe Audition, as these third-party tools leave behind traces in the recording’s metadata. And lastly, there were reportedly no signs of reprocessing or recompression as they also tend to leave visual artifacts in the spectrogram.
What Happened with Nawaz Sharif in Panama Scandal?
The leaked audio of Saqib Nisar turned the attention back towards how Nawaz Sharif was ingloriously disqualified after his name came in the Panama scandal. In April 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released Panama Papers, exposing a system that enables corruption, crime, and other wrongdoings, hiding behind the corporate face of offshore companies. Thousands of citizens across the world (mainly politicians and businessmen) owned such companies. Around 455 Pakistanis were among these citizens and 4 companies were linked to the Sharif family. This led opposition parties, most prominently Khan’s PTI, to start a campaign against the Sharif government alleging ill-gotten gains and tax avoidance. The accused announced setting up a judicial commission to probe allegations but it could not reach an agreement with the opposition. Later the idea was scrapped and the matter went to Supreme Court (SC). In October 2016, SC admitted the allegations of opposition parties and in December, Saqib Nisar became the Chief Justice.
Nisar reconstituted the Panama case moments after taking the oath and started the hearing again in January 2017. SC concluded the hearing in February and reserved its judgment for 2 months. It then created a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in May 2017 to definitely prove if allegations against the Sharif family were true or not. Saqib Nisar appointed the monitoring bench that consisted of Wajid Zia (former Additional Director General of FIA), Brigadier Muhammad Nauman Saeed (ISI), Brigadier Kamran Khursheed (Military Intelligence), Amir Aziz (State Bank of Pakistan), Bilal Rasool (Executive Director of Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan), and Irfan Naeem Mangi (Director of National Accountability Bureau).
After one month in July 2017, JIT submitted its report and SC gave verdict to disqualify Nawaz Sharif and ordered NAB to file references against the Sharif family. SC also ordered the Accountability Courts to make the decision within 6 months, which it failed to do. Sharif family also requested for some additional time and Saqib Nisar gave them 4 weeks and ordered the SC to complete the proceedings before 10 July 2018. On July 6, the Accountability Court announced its verdict and sentenced Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. Both of them were arrested by Rangers at the Lahore airport, when they returned to Pakistan from London. Then after 12 days, on July 25, 2018, general elections were held and Imran Khan became Prime Minister.