LAHORE - The lawyers and the economists say operating off-shore companies is an offence under the law of land therefore a logical conclusion is necessary on the issue of Sharifs involvement in running these companies.

The PML-N leaders deny any wrongdoing by the children of the prime minister in running two off-shore companies. Minister for Information Pervez Rashid, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah Khan and others vehemently defend Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children and finding it enough that the PM has set up a judicial commission of a retired Supreme Court judge to investigate into the issue. They do no associate the PM with these companies and rebuff the charges that off-shore companies means that Sharifs launder money.

Former Federal Finance Minister and economist Dr Salman Shah said no one sitting in Pakistan can operate offshore companies. Any monetary transaction from Pakistan to the foreign company has to be carried out after approval of the State Bank of Pakistan and Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) otherwise it would be an offence under the law.

However, he said, the SBP rules and regulation would not apply to a monetary transaction carried out by an overseas Pakistani with his money in the bank abroad. He said the money sent abroad after official approval can be valid investment, otherwise, the money sent through hundi for business abroad would be called money laundering. Dr Salman said in the current scenario international law is very strict on keeping a check on money laundering so transfer of money through hundi is discouraged as such money is believed to be used in advancing the cause of worldwide terrorism.

This has also made operating the offshore companies a difficult task, he added. As to law which could be pressed into service to hold accountability for illegal transfer of money to a foreign companies he said, through the foreign currency account a limited amount can be sent abroad otherwise Foreign Exchange Regulations can be invoked to probe transfer of huge sums. Sending money through hundi or secret means is not permissible therefore it constitutes an offence under the law of the land, he added.

PML-Q leader and the former law Minister SM Zafar said the NAB, FIA, and FBR and even the court are competent authorities to take suo moto notice of a matter relating to evasion of tax by way of operating the offshore business concern but the point is their exercise would be limited to the probe and what follows it is a big question as the law demands concrete evidence to proceed ahead.

He said law and the Constitutional provisions of article 62 and 63 would have automatically come into operation had the offshore companies would have been handled by an assembly member or the prime minister. But in the instant case, none of the three kids of the PM is representing the Assembly and more than law demand of morality precedes in this case, he added.

Zafar said investigations by the judicial commission would have zero effect rather it would lender those committed the offence of sending the money outside the country. He said law is limited on the issue at hand and present hue and cry on both sides just aims at keeping the wolf of corruption away from their own door. He said civil society can play a big role given the situation to rope in every corrupt to the net of accountability.

Senior jurist and PTI central leader Hamid Khan says National Accountability Bureau holds the powers to take action after the Panama leaks but the question credibility of this institution is doubtful in the public eyes and the chances of its compromising the norms of fair probe are high. Same is the case with other institutions like FIA and Banking law that have failed stand up against the powerful in the country. That is why his party demands probe into the Panama leaks by Chief Justice of Pakistan, he added.

He said in the instant case off-shore accounts of the Sharif companies are in the name of Prime Minister’s kids which in fact serve for benami accounts of the prime minister himself which is a normal practice in running offshore companies and launder money through them.

“Offshore companies are operated only to conceal money which is a serious offence under the law.” He said democracy functions on moral grounds and that is why two prime ministers and one president in the world have so far stepped down accepting the democratic verdict against them.

And if Pakistan has to come up as true democratic country here the public decision will also need to be honoured, he added.

Hamid Khan also cited the example of UK Prime Minister David Cameron who did not run the offshore company but his father and was only held accused of avoiding tax on the money which although was not as serious an offence yet public pressure is mounting on him. He said it is also good for the PM Nawaz Sharif to step down otherwise he may be in troubled waters.

Senior lawyer and PPP leader Khurram Latif Khosa said under the banking law and income tax law, one has to declare source of money if they have been transferred to other country for business purposes.

The NAB, FIA, and other relevant institutions can take cognizance of the matter if money has been secretly sent abroad but here in the question who will take act when these institutions apply law differently on the rulers and the rest ones. He said prime minister’s children are dependent on their parents for money as such the father is liable to disclose this fact.

Khurram said the prime minister is under constitutional oath to act in the interest of the country and that interest is compromised when you and your family members are investing the money abroad but you are inviting the others to invest in your country. The PM has also committed breach of oath, he said citing the example of former Chief Justice iftikhar Muhammad Ch whose son Arsalan Iftikhar was also questioned for obtaining such a big sum of money. Setting up off-shore companies just aims laundering the money and the same is the case in hand, he added.