ISLAMABAD - A Public Accounts Committee meeting yesterday remained inconclusive to ascertain any concrete measures to be taken by the government departments to probe the Panama leaks.

The committee meeting, chaired by Syed Khursheed Shah, gave a one-month period to NAB, FIA, SECP, SBP to prepare and brief the body about the measures to be taken to probe ‘Panamagate’.

The parliamentary accountability body (PAC) witnessed a verbal brawl between PML-N MNA Mian Abdul Manan and AML chief Sheikh Rashid. The AML chief alleged the PML-N members of the committee had a well-planned move to sabotage the meeting. Later, he announced to boycott the sitting in protest.

The PML-N and PTI members of PAC were seen locking horns over the offshore companies possessed by Pakistanis. Some members from PML-N were of the view that the probe needs to start from 1980s, the eras of the previous governments.

The heads of the government’s central departments said, on several questions of the PAC members, it was not in their purview.

NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, on his turn, briefed the committee that his department was not investigating the Panama leaks. “NAB will fulfil its duty when the case is referred to it,” he made it clear, after a volley of questions posed mainly by PTI member Arif Alvi.

The NAB chairman said other departments, including FBR, SECP and SBP, would send their reports to NAB for further action after completing their probes. “Once these government departments complete their working, NAB will see the matter,” said Qamar Zaman, saying the probe process cannot be initiated without evidence.

PAC member Arif Alvi, in a cross question, accused the NAB chief of misguiding the committee members with his statement. “NAB arrests people before any investigation, but in the case of Panama leaks, you are saying, we can never proceed without evidence,” he said, addressing the NAB chairman. He also gave different references in a bit loud voice.

The NAB chairman, in his response, said he was not misguiding the committee; his department would surely take up the issue after other government departments start working on this matter.

PAC Chairman Khursheed Shah, at the fog end of the proceedings, asked the FBR chief to send a copy of notices issues to 444 Pakistanis having offshore companies to NAB. He also expressed displeasure over FBR for initiating the probe after five months.

The FBR chairman shared a legal glitch, saying the department, after getting response from the persons, would refer the case to the departments concerned for action.

The members from PML-N and PTI also blew hot and cold while discussing the matter even before the presentations of government officials. “Members should avoid politicking and if they want, I will also do it,” the PAC chairman said, seeking reply about offshore companies possessed by people in 1980s. The PAC chairman, with the support of some other members, said the committee would not allow anyone to politicise the matter. “Everyone needs to behave as a PAC member, not as a member of any political party,” he warned.

At the onset of briefings by other government departments, Law Secretary Karamat Hussain Niazi said the PAC had the authority to debate this matter. He suggested an in-camera briefing, saying the body had no power to talk a suo motu notice.

Khursheed Shah firmly rejected his legal opinion and asked the government officials to brief the committee in length.

The FBR chairman, on his turn, said that FBR had issued notices to all those having offshore companies as per Panama documents. “The names of 444 Pakistanis had appeared on the website of International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and notices have been issued to them,” he said and faced criticism by the PAC members for initiating the first step after five months.

He further said these persons are officers or owners of 280 offshore companies mentioned in the Panama Papers. “FBR had issued 221 notices and will deal the matter legally,” he said.

He said FBR is awaiting the response of the notices. “All those who made offshore companies abroad after paying taxes will not be considered criminals,” he added.

SECP Chairman Zafar Hijazi, on his turn, said his department would not cross its limits. “SECP is doing its job within limits and purview of the department,” he added.

A government official said 444 accounts of the companies would be examined to ascertain their illegal links.

State Bank of Pakistan Governor Ashraf Mahmood Wathra, on his turn, briefed the committee that his department keeps eye on suspicious transactions. “The transaction which does not come through a bank is beyond their purview,” he asserted.

Rana Afzaal, a PAC member from PML-N, asked the status of Pakistanis possessing offshore companies by earning in a foreign country. Rohail Asghar, another PAC member from PML-N, posed a question about the money allegedly smuggled by Ayyan Ali. “Who kept eye on the money allegedly smuggled by her,” he questioned. The two members were not given any response to their queries.

The committee, under Rule 224, decided to hold a discussion on the Panama leaks issue, but no official from the main government departments had turned up in the first meeting for different reasons. All the top government heads were issued summons to ensure their presence at the meeting.

The PAC joint secretary, as per rules, had issued notices to the Federal Board of Revenue, the finance secretary and National Accountability Bureau, asking them to ensure their presence in the PAC meeting on September 20.