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First person arrested in Pananma leaks tempering case

22 July, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: The chairman of Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) was arrested on Friday over allegations of forging documents in Panama Papers case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family.

Zafar Hijazi was accused by a Supreme Court-appointed joint investigation team (JIT) of doctoring the records of a sugar mill owned by the Sharif family.

Hijazi, who is seen as a trusted ally of Sharif, had appeared in court on Friday morning for a bail hearing and was arrested after his plea was rejected.

Hijazi appeared in Islamabad special judge central Malik Tahir Mahmood’s court to get his pre-arrest bail extended. His counsel, while presenting arguments, claimed that his client was being victimized and that those accused of tampering the record were included in the case as witnesses.

“Hijazi has been declared main accused in Chaudhry Sugar Mills record tampering case unjustly. Therefore, my client should be granted bail so that he can cooperate in the ongoing investigation,” argued Hijazi’s counsel.

He added that Hijazi did not want to go to Adyala jail due to ailment. However, the judge rejected Hijazi’s plea and he was arrested from the court room by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

It may be mentioned here that FIA had lodged an FIR on July 10 against Hijazi for allegedly tampering with the record of Chaudhry Sugar Mills on the order of the Supreme Court. The FIR was registered under sections 466 (forgery) and 471 (using of forged documents as genuine) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), read with Section 5(2)47 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, at FIA’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU) in Islamabad.

Soon after arrest by the FIA, the health of the SECP chairman ‘deteriorated’ and he was taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) for medical check-up.

Zafer Hijazi was brought to the hospital at around 12:30pm. A doctor, who wished not to be named,said that the senior FIA officials pressed upon the administration to admit Hijazi to the hospital. However, their requests were denied by the hospital.

He said that Hijazi was having minor kidney problem and for such a minor issue, any patient could not be admitted to the hospital.

When contacted, PIMS chief Dr Javed Akram confirmed the arrival of the SECP chairman to the hospital. He, however, refused to share details related to Hijazi’s disease. “I can share details only after medical examiner’s reports is finalized,” he said.

Journalists who reached the hospital for coverage were allegedly harassed by the FIA officials.

A female reporter, Saba Kabeer, claimed that an FIA official snatched her mobile phone and held her hostage in the hospital. “I was the first among other journalists who reached the hospital to cover Hijazi’s visit. Seeing me alone, they (FIA) insulted me and virtually harassed me,” she said.

Meanwhile, the federal government on Friday issued termination notification of Hijazi after his arrest by the FIA. He is likely to be replaced by senior commissioner Tahir Mahmood who will take charge as acting chairman of the SECP. Tahir is in US on an official visit and will return by Monday.

According to the SECP regulations, the senior-most commissioner is appointed as the acting chairman. In the past too, Tahir Mahmood has worked as acting chairman in 2014.

In Lahore, Justice Shams Mehmood Mirza of the Lahore High Court will hold preliminary hearing of a petition seeking removal of Zafar Hijazi from office of the SECP chairman on July 24.

A citizen, Zahir Ali, had approached the court, arguing that the JIT had found Hijazi guilty of tampering records of the companies owned by the Sharif family.

Hijazi’s arrest comes just over a week after the investigating team, tasked by the Supreme Court with probing the graft claims, said that documents naming Sharif’s daughter Maryam as a trustee for several of the family’s high-end London properties were also ‘falsified’.

Dated 2006, they were typed in Microsoft’s Calibri font, which was not released for commercial use until 2007, the joint investigation team (JIT) said, citing forensics experts.

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