NationalVolume 12 Issue # 12

The BBC thunderbolt

A recent report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) proves the Sharif family had purchased their London Park Lane flats in the 1990s and the ownership has not been transferred to any company or person since then. However, the ruling family of Pakistan has managed the publication of a fake report in the local media instead of suing the most credible media house in the world in the United Kingdom. When the fresh report appeared on the BBC Urdu website, two big media houses on the payroll of the government blanked it. Instead, they carried a story of the official news agency, creating an impression, though unsuccessfully, that the report was fake and the BBC had launched an investigation against its own reporter, who had provided photocopies of all documents on the website. However, the BBC denied it had started any inquiry against the reporter who filed a news report on the ownership of the Park Lane flats.

The same tactic was adopted in the Panama case when the government set up a story that the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which had unearthed details of offshore companies, removed the name of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from its website and also “apologized to him for the mistake.” Then, the government released newspaper advertisements worth millions of rupees, claiming that the prime minister had been declared innocent by the ICIJ in the case and the opposition, like the association of journalists, should also apologize to the ruling family. However, the ICIJ rejected the government’s claim and stood by its findings. According to the BBC Urdu, the properties owned by the Sharif family in Park Lane were purchased in the 1990s. According to official documents available with it, the Nielson and Nescol offshore companies purchased the flats in the 1990s and there has been no transfer of ownership ever since. An official record of companies doing business in the UK reveals that when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s son, Hassan Nawaz, had established Flagship Investment 2001, the address given at the time was that of his Park Lane apartment.

The official documents also reveal that another flat, 12-A, situated in the same block of the Mayfair apartments, is owned by a British company Flagship Investment Ltd. and the company’s documents say its director is Hassan Nawaz. The flat was bought by Flagship Investment Avenfield House on January 29, 2004. According to a company that keeps the record of corporate organisations, Hassan had started the company in 2001, which has his address of the Park Lane flat. Hassan is also director of four more companies, which have the address of the Avenfield House flat. Citing documents of a property buying and selling organisation in London, the report said the first flat in central London’s Mayfair residence was bought at 17, Avenfield House,by Nescol Ltd. on June 1, 1993. The second flat, 16, was bought by Nelson Enterprises the same building on July 31, 1995. The third flat, 16-A, was bought on the same date by the same company while the fourth, 17-A, was bought by Nescol on July 23, 1996.

The BBC said it had contacted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s sons, Hassan and Hussain, in writing to seek their response to the ownership and dates of purchase of the properties but they did not respond. In the letter, Hussain was asked that the ownership of the properties had not changed since 1990s, according to the record of the British land registry department, contrary to his claim that the flats were bought in 2006. The questions raised by the BBC also included a query relating to Nelson and Nescol, most importantly about the date of the buying of the offshore companies. Instead of adopting a legal course, the government planted a fake story in Pakistani media, through the official news agency, claiming the BBC had started investigations against the reporter, who was accused by the BBC itself of “misusing the platform of the organization.” Quoting “highly reliable sources” in the BBC, the fake report said reporter Ather Kazmi had been accused by the BBC management of playing into the hands of a Pakistani political party by uploading “an old story.” It claimed the reporter had close links with Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leaders and he based his story on a file which is part of the case being heard in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

In a statement published on BBC Urdu the next day, it said it was satisfied that the report on the Park Lane flats lived up to its journalistic values and editorial standards, which include accuracy of information and impartiality. It denied it had opened up any internal investigation against the reporter on the story in question. It added that it had not been contacted by any organisation to provide an explanation for the news item. The BBC report has given a new twist to the allegations against the ruling family. The details about the ownership of another apartment by another offshore company and a few other companies owned by Hassan Nawaz Sharif could add to problems for the Sharifs. The report also rubbishes a letter of a Qatari prince submitted in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which said the offshore companies had been transferred to the Sharifs after a business deal in 2006. The letter is the only defence of the ruling family in the case, but the new story proves it wrong.

The BBC website has also attached photocopies of all relevant documents to prove its findings. The government has not challenged the contents of the report in the UK, which means it accepts them. The Supreme Court of Pakistan should write to the British government or the BBC through official channels to ascertain the truth. It should also take notice of the concocted report, released by the official news agency, to reach a conclusion.