ISLAMABAD - The Senate yesterday passed an opposition-backed bill on Panama Papers investigation with majority vote, against the wishes of treasury benches who see the proposed law aimed at targeting the prime minister and his family.

The Panama Papers Inquiry Bill, 2016 was passed with slight amendments, amid an exchange of hot words between opposition and treasury benches. The bill was passed with 37 votes, while 15 votes of treasury members went against it.

Most of the amendments introduced by the treasury senators Ayesha Raza Farooq and Nehal Hashmi were rejected with majority vote while the chair did not hold in order the amendments moved by another PML-N lawmaker Saleem Zia.

The bill - moved by the opposition parties PPP, PTI, PML-Q, ANP and BNP-Awami - will now be sent to the National Assembly where it is most likely to be rejected as the government enjoys majority in the lower house of the parliament.

Dr Jahenzeb Jamalidini of BNP-Mengal was the only member from the opposition side who opposed the bill. MQM, an opposition party, abstained in the voting process while Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), a treasury benches party, also stayed away from the voting process.

The government thinks that opposition has brought the bill with mala fide intention as it is specific to the probe of Panama leaks in which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family is facing allegations of amassing wealth through illegal means and stashing it offshore.

It views that matters of written-off loans, offshore companies and Bahamas leaks as well as financial crimes to be committed in future should also be included in the proposed law by broadening the scope.

The bill provides for the constitution of a commission of inquiry to investigate the revelations made by the disclosures contained in the Panama Papers. “And whereas it is necessary to provide for a uniform, fair, non-discriminatory and transparent process of inquiry into the means by which the Panama-related properties, assets and interests were acquired by all Pakistani nationals thus named and their families,” says the bill.

The house witnessed an exchange of harsh words between treasury and opposition lawmakers before the house adopted a motion to pass the bill. It all started when opposition leader in Senate Aitzaz Ahsan reacted to a remark by Law Minister Zahid Hamid, who alleged that opposition legislators did not honour their promise of getting an extension to further discuss the bill in the relevant committee.

“They had promised us that more time would be sought from the house to further deliberate upon the bill but despite solemn commitment, they backtracked which is not fair,” Zahid lamented.

This prompted Aitzaz to say that the mocking remarks by law minister were directed to him, which according to him was untrue. He reminded that government must not forget that it was the prime minister who backtracked from his commitment given on floor of the National Assembly about his offshore wealth.

“We all know what the prime minister said on the floor of the house (National Assembly) and what his lawyers interpreted his speech in Supreme Court,” he added.

Mushahidullah Khan, ruling party’s parliamentary leader in Senate, tried to retaliate in hard tone, and taunted at him and his party that those who had remained involved in disintegrating Pakistan and giving out the list of Sikhs of separatist movement to India must not cross the limits.

“I’ve done PhD on your past, so better weigh your words before saying anything against the prime minister, as I’m sitting here only to respond to your allegations,” he said, amid thumping desks by fellow treasury lawmakers.

Aitzaz Ahsan rose from his seat red-faced and said that these were baseless allegations against him but a timely intervention by Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani helped calming down the two sides.

The Bill says that the federal government shall make a reference to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to nominate three judges of the Supreme Court as the members of the commission to inquire into the revelations made by the Panama Papers.

It says that a respondent held responsible by the commission for any illegal act or conduct shall be prosecuted and punished in accordance with law by a court of competent jurisdiction. The commission shall have the powers of a court under the constitution, CPC, CrPC and the Supreme Court Rules.

The federal and provincial governments and all government agencies as well as executive authorities, including NAB, FIA, IB, FBR, SBP and SECP shall act in aid of the commission and extend all cooperation and assistance necessary to it and shall comply with all its directions, the proposed bill says.