ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar on Sunday dismissed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif’s claim of initiating legal action against British publication Daily Mail, which carried a report on July 14 accusing the former Punjab chief minister of embezzling earthquake funds.
Addressing a news conference in Islamabad, the prime minister’s aide said Shehbaz had only filed a complaint with the publication and not initiated a lawsuit.
‘Govt defending Daily Mail story proves it’s involved’
“Complaining that we will take you to court is not a lawsuit, going to a court is,” he added.
Akbar also pointed out that the PML-N president had not denied the allegations against him in the Daily Mail story by journalist David Rose.
“No allegations were denied in the letter sent by Shehbaz’s counsel [London-based legal firm Carter-Ruck Solicitors]; all it said was that the story was not in public interest,” he maintained.
“How is this matter not in public interest? This needs to be clarified.”
The prime minister’s aide also rubbished Shehbaz’s assertion of taking the matter to a London court. “I can say with complete confidence that he will never take this matter to a court in the UK,” he added.
“Shehbaz has promised to sue Daily Mail and, if he does, I am ready to appear with all necessary evidence.”
Akbar noted that the Daily Mail journalist also stood by his story and shared Rose’s July 26 tweet in which he wrote: “He [Shehbaz] complains the earthquake was in 2005, before he became CM. But according to evidence already aired in a Pakistani court, the alleged thefts from the quake relief fund were in 2009 and 2011. Refutation?”
The controversy was initiated when Daily Mail published a story on the alleged misuse of UK aid money during Shehbaz’s tenure as Punjab chief minister.
Shehbaz serves legal notice on Daily Mail
The Mail on Sunday article – headlined “Did the family of Pakistani politician who has become the poster boy for British overseas aid steal funds meant for earthquake victims?” – alleged that Shehbaz, with the help of his family members and some close confidants, had embezzled and laundered money out of £500 million foreign aid poured into Punjab for relief activities after the 2005 earthquake.
After the article was published, Akbar held a press conference where he said that the government had ‘undeniable evidence’ to establish that the assets accumulated by the PML-N president’s family were funded by remittances sent abroad through telegraphic transfers (TTs).
“According to the Financial Monitoring Unit of State Bank of Pakistan, the Sharif family had made some 200 remittances amounting to $26 million since 2007 till now,” he said.
Akbar said Shehbaz’s family had no source of income in the country but received $26 million from abroad, adding that, “99 per cent of Hamza Shehbaz’s assets were bought from the money remitted between 2007-8 to 2010-11 by different individuals and fake companies”.
The prime minister’s aide claimed that the money was transferred to the former Punjab chief minister’s son-in-law Ali Imran’s company from the fund meant for the earthquake-affected people.
He also said he was being wrongly accused of being behind the news article.