Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's daughter, appeared on Wednesday for the first time before the Supreme Court-sanctioned joint investigation team (JIT) probing the Sharif family's business dealings abroad.
Maryam was accompanied by husband Captain Safdar, brothers Hassan and Hussain, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb, the PM's Special Assistant Asif Kirmani and female capital police officers, to the JIT secretariat. A number of PML-N workers, especially from the party's women wing, had also turned up near the FJA to show support for Maryam.
Later, while addressing a press conference outside the Federal Judicial Academy (FJA) in Islamabad after recording her statement before the JIT, the first daughter appeared composed, but sternly dismissed reporters' questions multiple times during her speech.
"I answered whatever questions they [the JIT] asked me … I tried to answer with honesty," she claimed.
"I asked the JIT what the accusation against us [the Sharif family] is. They had no answer to my question," she claimed.
She took particular issue with the JIT's probe into her family's private businesses, saying nobody had a right to look into the private accounts of the Sharif family's businesses.
"If public money was involved, then we are answerable, but that is not the case regarding private businesses," she said.
"Those who have cases of misuse of public funds open against them have petitioned for stay orders. We [however] can justify our properties and have been doing so," she claimed.
"Why are those who have no businesses and no source of income not being questioned," she asked, making a veiled reference to PTI chief Imran Khan, who was also accused by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar of owning wealth beyond his means.
"They thought my father would be pressured by using his daughter's name," she said. "Those who think Nawaz Sharif's daughter is his weakness will find she is his strength."
"Those who have no regard for daughters and family values will never understand these things," she added, in what appeared to be another attack aimed at Imran Khan. "If you are targeting me because I am Nawaz Sharif's daughter, I will fight back because I am his daughter."
"We could have taken immunity and hidden, we could have absconded from the courts and gone to Nathia Gali, but we presented ourselves for accountability."
The prime minister's daughter also warned her father's detractors that they should fear the day PM Sharif brings out the skeletons from their closets. "The secrets he carries and the conspiracies against him — don't push him to the point where he must reveal those," she said.
"If you conspire against Nawaz Sharif, he will return stronger than before… He will become PM for the fourth, fifth time. Stop him if you can," she challenged.
"Stop him or the power crisis will end. Stop him or the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will be completed. Stop him or he will win the 2018 election."
The PM's daughter is the eighth member of the Sharif family to be summoned by the JIT.
'We will end this game'
PM's Special Assistant Asif Kirmani, speaking to reporters while Maryam was inside the secretariat, questioned why the JIT had not yet visited Qatar to record Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani's statement.
"I want them to tell us why JIT members are not going to Qatar to take the ex PM's statement in the case," he said.
"The members of JIT have not gone to Qatar yet and that is equivalent to them trying to keep the truth from coming out," he claimed.
"In court proceedings, the rule is that the petitioner of the case provides the proof, and yet the petitioners are all hiding away while we are the ones trying to prove our innocence," he said.
"The JIT members went all the way to Dubai, and took help from London law firms in the case, but did not think it is important to go to Qatar and record the Qatari prince’s statement."
Turning his attention towards Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, Kirmani said, "I read today that, Imran Khan, the self proclaimed 'Mr Clean' has an apartment in Grand Hyatt. If this is true, Khan has not mentioned that apartment in his financial record."
"He is very loud when he is calling us out but he has still not handed in his reply to the Election Commission of Pakistan," he added.
"Imran Khan has not handed his reply to the court in the foreign funding case against PTI and he has not even told the court why his party has taken funding from countries that have an anti-Pakistan agenda," the PM's close aide alleged.
"You started this game Khan sahib but we are the ones that will end it," Kirmani warned.
Maryam's husband, Capt Safdar, also spoke in support of his wife and her family. "These JITs are not tiring of their questions. They will bring some new investigation team tomorrow in the hopes of probing this family even more," he claimed.
"Even her [Maryam's] late grandfather's affairs were discussed in court. She is not afraid of answering questions," he asserted.
The JIT summons
The JIT's summons to Maryam had earlier been made controversial by a back-and-forth between the ruling PML-N and the PTI.
The former are adamant that it is an "egoistic decision" to summon the PM's daughter for questioning, whereas the latter hold that it is the Sharif family itself which is responsible for the JIT's summons.
Maryam, however, expressed her resolve to face investigators in a series of timely messages sent from her Twitter account on Tuesday night.
"He has seen [and] been through the most testing times, in the 30-plus years of his political career… yet as an affectionate [and] protective father, I saw his eyes filled with concern and apprehensions over his daughter’s appearance before JIT," she tweeted.
"I told him that I am your daughter, trained by you, [and] will neither cower down, nor yield to pressure [and] nothing will deter me from taking up the cudgels against transgression and injustice. Will appear before the JIT, follow the rule of law as you always have," Maryam tweeted, before concluding on a positive note: "See you tomorrow, Insha’Allah."
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, like other PML-N leaders, has strongly objected to his niece Maryam's summoning by the JIT.
"There is no moral justification for the JIT decision to summon the daughter of the prime minister," he said in a statement issued earlier on Tuesday.
"We accept the JIT’s privilege to summon any person as witness but our civilisation teaches us respect for women," he added.
PTI's Fawad Chaudhry, while speaking to reporters in Islamabad today, claimed that the party was not to be blamed for the summons to Maryam Nawaz.
"These people talk about how three generations of their family are being held accountable. However, we had only nominated Nawaz Sharif in our petition and everyone else has been dragged into the case by the family itself," he claimed.
"Nawaz Sharif had to provide details about two companies and the flats. He was the one who involved his son in the case, and the son then involved Maryam in the case."
"Maryam Nawaz needs to present herself to the JIT because of Nawaz Sharif and Hussain Nawaz's statements," he claimed, adding that "Hussain Nawaz placed all the blame on his grandfather Mian Sharif."
"So Hussain placed blame on his grandfather and a Qatari businessman, both of whom have passed away, and the information Hussain has given to the JIT can not be be verified," he continued, adding that "The truth is that Mian Sharif's passport does not have a visa stamped to Qatar."
The JIT has repeatedly questioned Maryam's brothers Hussain and Hassan, while it has also recorded the statements of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the PM’s son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar, the PM’s cousin Tariq Shafi, and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar — the father-in-law of the PM’s younger daughter.
Although her name appeared in the Panama Papers as the beneficial owner of the offshore companies — Nielsen Enterprises and Nescoll Ltd — which owned the four Park Lane apartments at the heart of the Supreme Court case, Maryam was virtually cleared by the apex court in the Panama Papers controversy.
The court stated that the PM’s daughter "has received cash gifts from her father in substantial amounts on various occasions … receipt of gifts from the father does not necessarily make respondent No.6 (Maryam) his (Nawaz Sharif’s) dependent in the legal sense of the word".