NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 12

Broadsheet saga: Propaganda and reality

A media campaign has been launched against the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government after Pakistan had to pay $21.5 million to a UK company tasked with tracking down foreign assets purchased by Pakistanis through ill-gotten wealth in 2000. It is irony that the poor people of Pakistan had to pay a heavy price for properties of the Sharif family abroad but instead of being ashamed of it, they have launched a campaign, with the help of some media houses, to malign the image of the NAB and the PTI government, which had no role in it. The media campaign aims to hide the truth about Sharifs properties abroad and influence corruption cases against them.

Pakistan had to pay the huge amount to the UK company on an order of the London court, as the NAB had terminated the contract in 2003, after former President Pervez Musharraf was forced by international powers to announce the so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) as a result of which corruption cases against former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and his family were dropped and they were allowed to return to Pakistan from exile. However, the cost of the NRO was paid by the poor people of Pakistan through the nose while the Sharifs were its biggest beneficiary.

The Sharif family claims to have been exonerated by the London court despite the fact that the court has cited the family, their properties abroad and alleged corruption on many occasions in its judgment. At one point, the London court verdict reads: “Nawaz Sharif belongs to the second generation of a wealthy Punjab family which owns among many other assets in Pakistan and abroad a family business which according to its website is large and profitable. That business alone is valued at US$288 million. The total value of assets attributed to him in the evidence before me is US$805.9 million including US$622.2 million in Pakistan, US$54.1 million in Saudi Arabia,US$24.5 million in the UAE and US$105.1 million in the United Kingdom. (These are, however, gross figures that do not necessarily relate to the current value of the properties shown.”

The judge also noted that there were various court proceedings involving certain of Nawaz Sharif’s business activities and he was sentenced to terms of imprisonment by the Sindh High Court in June 2000 and by the Attock Fort Accountability Court in July 2000. “In early December 2000, however, he and certain family members including his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, petitioned General Musharraf, then the President of Pakistan, for clemency, and confidential agreements were entered into which included grants of pardon in exchange for the family’s agreement to accept exile in Saudi Arabia. There is evidence that in 2001/2 Shahbaz Sharif made substantial payments to the NAB totalling up to Rs.440 million (about US$ 7.35 million) and there was some dispute at the Liability Hearing as to whether those were assets recovered by the NAB,” the court observed.

The London High Court also mentioned the Panama leaks and Nawaz Sharif and his family. “In 2015 the files of Mossack Fonseca, a firm of Panama lawyers, became public knowledge thus disclosing the affairs of clients and former clients, including Nawaz Sharif and family members. In Pakistan, proceedings were instituted by the leader of another political party, Imran Khan (now the elected Prime Minister) which resulted in an Order of the Supreme Court dated 20 April 2017. Mr. Ghumman (a former NAB official) said in evidence that there was a reason why the NAB never agreed to its inclusion because Mr. (Ishaq) Dar gave some assistance to the NAB regarding Sharif family assets in 2000. This consisted of identifying potentially recoverable assets of the Sharif family that were referred to in it and ascribing a valuation to each. This resulted in a list of 76 items of property in three overseas jurisdictions, namely, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the United Kingdom, as well as in Pakistan,” the court ruled.

Analysing another point, the court noted, “One example of the foregoing is the item described as ‘the highway kickback’. This appears as Item 30 “Lahore-Islamabad highway kickback” which is valued at US$160 million and is dated 1 Jan 2004. There is evidence, it is said, in the Constitutional Petition presented to the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2016 that during a previous period as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif succeeded in obtaining authorisation for the construction of a motor highway from his home town of Lahore to Islamabad, and that he or his associates received US$160 million by way of allegedly corrupt payments from the contractor(s) concerned. This evidence, in my view, does not support a claim that there is, or was, an asset worth $160 million in his possession which the NAB could have recovered from him, or could recover now, without further evidence linking that sum to cash or property assets which can or could have been seized.”

“This is immediately relevant in one case, namely, the four Avenfield Flats which the Accountability Court has declared (subject to appeal) are the property of the Government of Pakistan, the Second Respondent in this arbitration. The values ascribed to them total US$13 million (items 62-65). If the Government has to prove its title before the English Courts, and then realises their value, I would expect (and I find) that the net recovery will be not less than about US$8 million. But I would accept that the net recovery from local assets in Saudi Arabia or the UAE could be significantly lower, depending on the circumstances of each case,” the judgment says.

The references of properties and businesses of the Sharifs in the judgment, proof of which was provided by the Broadsheet to the court, can land the former ruling family of Pakistan in more trouble. It is why it has unleashed a smear campaign against the PTI and the NAB.