The Sharif family’s luxury flats in an upscale London neighbourhood, which are at the centre of the Panamagate scandal, had been purchased in the 1990s and since then there has been no change of ownership, BBC Urdu reported citing official documents.
The four apartments in the Park Lane neighbourhood had been purchased in the name of Nielsen Enterprise Ltd and Nescoll Ltd — the two offshore companies named in the Panama Papers, according to the report.
The official records of companies doing business in the United Kingdom reveal that when Hassan Nawaz,
son of Premier Sharif, set up a company, Flagship Investment Ltd in 2001, he had provided his Park Lane apartment’s address at the time of registration.
In May 2015, the Panama Papers, an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca, revealed that three scions of the Sharif family are among thousands of powerful people of the world who had secreted their monies in offshore tax havens.
The revelations stirred up a political firestorm in the country, with opposition parties, especially Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, accusing the ruling Sharif family of corruption and money laundering and calling for their accountability.
In subsequent interviews, Premier Sharif’s son Hussain Nawaz admitted the family’s ownership of Nielsen and Nescoll, the two offshore companies named in the Panama Papers.
“The Park Lane apartments in London are owned by Nielsen and Nescoll, and I am the beneficial owner of these companies, which are working under a trust held by my sister Maryam Nawaz Sharif,” Hussain had said at the time.
A five-judge larger bench of the Supreme Court is hearing a slew of petitions filed by opposition politicians seeking disqualification of Premier Sharif in light of the Panama Papers revelations.
In his reply in the top court, Hussain said he was the sole owner of the properties abroad. “Entities [properties] are being managed under a trust arrangement for the sole benefit of Hussain Nawaz, with Maryam Nawaz being the trustee thereof. Other than the role of a trustee for and on behalf of Hussain Nawaz, Hassan Nawaz has no concern, relationship, ownership or control of the entities and/or the properties,” he said.
He further submitted that the source of funds resulting in vesting of beneficial ownership of the entities and, consequently, the properties of Hussain Nawaz, in January 2006, was the investment made by the late Mian Muhammad Sharif, father of Premier Sharif, in 1980, from the sale proceeds of his steel business in Dubai.
No part of the funds resulting in vesting of beneficial ownership of the entities in favour of Hussain were generated or transferred/transmitted from Pakistan, states the reply adding that before Jan 2006, none of the entities or properties was owned by any of the Sharif family members.
Premier Sharif’s second son Hassan Nawaz, in his reply, stated that he was not and had never been owner of any of the properties or entities. He further stated that none of the members of the Sharif family had purchased the properties between 1993 and 1996.
Conversely, the BBC report says one of the Mayfair Apartments, 12-A, is owned by a British company, Flagship Investment Ltd. And the company’s documents show that Hassan is its director. The Flagship Investment Ltd purchased Flat 12-A in the Avenfield House on January 12, 2004. Apart from that, Hassan is also the director of four companies which have the same address of the Mayfair apartments.
According to the documents of the organisation keeping records of sale and purchase of properties in London, the first flat in the central London neighbourhood of Mayfair, 17 Avenfield House, had been purchased on June 1, 1993 by the Nescoll Ltd.
Similarly, another apartment, Flat 16, in the same Avenfield House had been purchased on July 21, 1995 by the Nielsen Enterprise Ltd. A third flat, 16-A, in the same building had been purchased on the same date by the same company. And the fourth flat, 17-A, had been purchased in July 1996 by the Nescoll Ltd.
According to the BBC, Premier Sharif’s sons had been approached for their version about the ownership and purchase of these flats, but they did not reply despite the passage of two weeks.
On November 15, the Sharif family had submitted a letter purportedly from a Qatari prince before the top court, which reads: “My father had longstanding business relations with Mian Muhammad Sharif, which were coordinated through my eldest brother. Our families enjoyed and continue to enjoy personal relations.” The prince further stated that as per his understanding at that time an aggregate sum of around 12 million dirhams had been contributed by Mian Sharif, originating from the sale of business in Dubai, UAE.
The letters further claims that the London flats were registered in the ownership of two offshore companies’ bearers share certificates of which were kept during that time in Qatar. These were purchased from the proceeds of the real estate business. “On account of the relationship between the families, Mian Muhammad Sharif and his family used the properties whilst bearing all expenses relating to the properties, including the ground rent and service charges.”
The Qatari prince further claims Mian Muhammad Sharif wished that beneficiary of his investment and returns in the real estate business would be his grandson Hussain Nawaz. He also reveals that in 2006, the accounts in relations to the investment were settled between the al Thani family of Qatar and Hussain Nawaz through which the properties had been transferred to the latter.
However, the Sharif family did not submit any documentary proof to establish that the settlement had been done between the families in 2006.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2017.