“Prove me or my brother loan defaulter and I’ll quit politics for good,” said Shahbaz Sharif in a scathing rejoinder to allegations of corruption against the Sharif family levelled by the country’s top anti-graft watchdog on Thursday.
It’s part of a malicious propaganda unleashed by a ‘gang of four’ which is apprehensive of PML-N’s growing popularity, said the former chief minister of Punjab and provincial president of the PML-N while addressing a news conference at the party’s central secretariat in Model Town on Friday.
Shahbaz did not name the ‘gang of four’. But sources said he was referring to President Asif Ali Zardari, National Accountability Bureau chief Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and the Midas Advertising Agency.
“This misinformation is not just affecting the average voter but is also deeply hurting millions of our supporters and workers,” Shahbaz said flanked by senior PML-N leaders, including Khawaja Asif, Ishaq Dar and Pervez Rashid.
He shared with journalists the Consumer Credit Information Report from the State Bank of Pakistan, which showed that the Sharif brothers do not owe any money.
The former chief minister added that even under a dictator [Pervez Musharraf], not a single accusation was proven against the Sharif family. Instead, the Lahore High Court had ruled in 2003 that Shahbaz was not a bank defaulter.
The PML-N has always been clear about its stance on loan defaulters: they should not be allowed to contest elections. This includes those who got their loans written off using political influence. Shahbaz said he and his brother were innocent, as declared by Supreme Court and high court orders.
Shahbaz challenged those spearheading a ‘character assassination campaign’ against him and his family to prove their accusations within 24 hours, or else the Sharifs would sue them for defamation.
He requested the election commission to enforce the code of conduct for the media, so that ‘careless proliferation of rumours and lies’ could be curbed. He also demanded the caretaker prime minister take action against those behind this smear campaign.
“If no action is taken, the people of Pakistan will assume that the government is also involved in this character assassination,” he added.
While providing ‘proof’ of his and his brother’s innocence, Shahbaz did not mention a recent report of three NAB references against the Sharif family, submitted to the ECP on Thursday.
At Friday’s news conference, Shahbaz apparently parried several questions about these references. NAB informed the ECP that corruption cases against the Sharif family are also pending in a Rawalpindi accountability court. Furthermore, Shahbaz’s petition to quash them has been pending in the Lahore High Court since 2002. Last year, the LHC Rawalpindi bench had reserved its judgment. The NAB spokesperson said the bureau has no mandate to raise objections about any candidate, but it sent the references to the ECP against the Sharif family because both brothers are contesting the May 11 elections.
According to PML-N sources, the timing of the NAB report is suspect as it was submitted 48 hours before the scrutiny period comes to an end on April 7.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2013.