A British tabloid has accused Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif of embezzling the UK grant for relief activities after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. The new allegations have further tarnished the image of the Sharif family after it is already facing dozens of corruption and money laundering cases in Pakistan.
Senior journalist David Rose broke the news in The Mail. He is same reporter who had called former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family “penthouse pirates” in his news story published in the same newspaper last year. The Sharif family had announced filing a defamation suit against him, but it chose to keep quiet in the end. Former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has also vowed to sue the newspaper and its reporter. Sources say his lawyers have already advised him against it.
The new report alleges that Shahbaz Sharif, with the help of his family members and some close confidants, had embezzled and laundered money out of £500million UK foreign aid that had been poured into the Punjab for relief activities after a massive earthquake that hit the country in 2005. Though the report was rebutted by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), which said, “The Mail provides little substantial evidence to support its headline.” However, David Rose tweeted, “`PML-N trolls in Pakistan are posting a photo of me with Prime Minister Imran Khan, claiming this shows my article about Shahbaz Sharif was planted. The photo was taken last year, when I interviewed him before the election.” As proof, he shared the web link of the interview published on July 21, 2018, in the same paper.
In his report, David Rose said Shahbaz Sharif had been “feted” for years as a Third World poster boy by Britain’s DFID, which poured more than £500 million of UK taxpayers’ money into his province in the form of aid. Quoting Pakistani investigators, he says, “All the time that DFID was heaping him and his government with praise and taxpayers’ cash, Shahbaz and his family were embezzling tens of millions of pounds of public money and laundering it in Britain. Since 2014, DFID has given more aid to Pakistan than any other country up to £463 million a year, says the report.
The reporter interviewed some key witnesses held on remand in jail, including a UK citizen, Aftab Mehmood, who has confessed that he had laundered millions on behalf of Shahbaz’s family from a nondescript office in Birmingham without attracting suspicion from Britain’s financial regulators, who inspected his books regularly. The newspaper says it can reveal legal documents which prove Shahbaz’s son-in-law received about £1 million from a fund established to rebuild the lives of earthquake victims. It adds that Britain’s National Crime Agency is working closely with Pakistani investigators and Home Secretary Sajid Javid is discussing the possible extradition of members of Shahbaz Sharif’s family, who have taken refuge in London. “A confidential investigation report, seen by this newspaper, says the family was worth just £150,000 in 2003 but by 2018 their total assets had grown to about £200 million. Among other properties, Shahbaz owns a 53,000sq ft palace in Lahore, which has its own large security force. Laundered payments were made to Shahbaz Sharif’s children, his wife and his son-in-law Ali Imran. Mr Sharif was the principal beneficiary of this money-laundering enterprise, by way of spending, acquisition of properties and their expansion into palatial houses where he lived,” it adds. The report lists 202 personal remittances from the UK and the UAE into the bank accounts of Shahbaz Sharif’s wife, two sons and two daughters.
British investigative journalist David Rose stands by his story. Talking to a Pakistani news channel from London, he said he was ready to face the Sharif family in courts, not only in Britain but also in Pakistan. He said he had concrete and irrefutable evidence against Shahbaz Sharif. He also reminded the Sharif family that he had called it “penthouse pirates” in his June 2018 report in The Mail, but they did not sue him despite threats.
The report comes at a time when the Sharif family is facing dozens of corruption and money laundering cases in Pakistan and investigators claim to have found concrete evidence against them. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), on the request of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), has frozen all bank accounts of Shahbaz Sharif and his family members. Earlier, the NAB seized properties of Shahbaz, his wives Nusrat Shahbaz, Tehmina Durrani and son Hamza Shahbaz in a corruption probe related to assets beyond means and money laundering.
The NAB has also initiated an investigation against jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and others for their alleged involvement in money laundering and possessing income beyond means. The NAB launched the investigation against Maryam, her father Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, cousins Hamza Shahbaz and Yousuf Abbas and others for owning the Chaudhry Sugar Mills Limited. The NAB has traced numerous telegraphic transfers worth millions of rupees by the Sharif family and the end beneficiaries were Maryam and other owners of the sugar mill. Shahbaz and his son Hamza are already in deep trouble after the manager of their Ramazan Sugar Mills handed over important documents and record to the NAB. They are accused of causing a loss of millions of rupees to the national exchequer by providing undue benefits to their sugar mill.
Reacting to the British tabloid report, the PML-N tried to undermine it by questioning the credibility of newspaper. However, they ignore the fact that liable laws in the UK are strictly implemented. The Mail may not be as credible as the mainstream newspapers, like The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent etc, but liable laws are equally applicable to the tabloid and if the charges prove wrong, it will have to pay millions of British pounds to the Sharif family. If the family does not sue the newspapers, the allegations would stand proved.