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A shoddy track record

Amid its claims about legality of offshore companies, Sharif family faces allegations of concealment of assets, tax evasion and money laundering

A shoddy track record

Politically, the pressure has increased on the Sharif family members to clear their position over the Panama Leaks. Contradictory statements coming from them have complicated their case.

They are being criticised for the alleged concealment of assets and facts, failure to pay taxes, shifting their money to tax havens, inability to provide audited statements of accounts of their companies abroad to support their claims of huge profits and hiding the sources from where the requisite funds were raised.

While the PM’s son, Hussain Nawaz, claims his friends and banks extended him “generous” loans, he hardly provides any details about the collateral required to obtain loans and the names of his friends.

All this has led many to doubt the source of wealth owned by the Sharifs. The burden lies with the latter to prove themselves innocent.

A column written in The News by Naseem Zehra on April 13 points out that “The prime minister did not declare the property while submitting his nomination papers since 1996, when the property was bought. The PM’s wife said in an interview that the property was bought by them for the children while they were studying in London, and Hussain Nawaz has claimed the property was bought much later with the great profits he made from the sale of his steel mill.”

The alleged misappropriation of funds against the Sharifs has been in the local and international media for decades and the recent disclosure has simply revived this issue. Before further looking into the contradictions, one must have a recap of what has been in the press in the past for a better understanding of the issue at hand.

Let’s go 16 years back, a year before the sacking of Nawaz Sharif’s government. A news item with the headline, Pakistan PM made millions in UK, carried by the UK-based The Independent on October 20, 1998 mentions that a British family from Ilford, Excess, opened accounts and maintained deposit worth 5 million pounds. “These deposits, the paper claims, were used to raise millions of pounds in loans which, according to the documents detailing Pakistan police inquiries, were channelled into Sharif family-owned businesses.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/pakistan-pm-made-millions-in-uk-1179392.html

The author of the story, Andrew Buncombe, writes that The Independent was told that bank accounts were set up in the names of three members of the Qazi family who were close friends of one of Sharif’s political allies — now a senior government figure. The Qazi family, however, claimed that these accounts were set up — without their knowledge — with the assistance of this senior politician who had lived with them at their home while he was studying accountancy in Britain.

While the PM’s son, Hussain Nawaz, claims his friends and banks extended him “generous” loans, he hardly provides any details about the collateral required to obtain loans and the names of his friends.

As per the news item, the Qazi family members also claimed the accounts were opened using copies of their passports, which they had given to this politician to obtain Pakistani ID cards on their behalf. “They said almost 5 million pounds were then deposited. They became aware of the accounts only when they received demands from various banks, demanding repayments on loans totalling millions of pounds. They insist they have done nothing wrong,” the paper adds.

Towards the close, the story quotes Kashif Qazi, 29, one of the four brothers, as saying: “We feel stupid… We trusted him for 30 years. We have to clear our names. We have lost our reputation in the community.” The Sharif family did not reply to the allegations.

Similarly, some National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court documents that have emerged recently show that Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar made some interesting revelations in an accountability court in April 2000 during the hearing of the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case against the Sharif brothers. This was the time when Dar had turned approver against Sharifs who had been ousted from the government after the coup led by Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

The 43-page confessional statement of Senator Ishaq Dar was recorded on April 25, 2000 before the District Magistrate Lahore when he was produced before the court by FIA. Dar, in his statement, admitted that he had been handling money matters of the Sharif family. He also alleged that Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif were involved in money laundering worth at least 14.886 million dollars.

Legal experts say the statement by Senator Dar is irrevocable as it was recorded under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in front of a magistrate. He also confessed in the court that he, along with his friends Kamal Qureshi and Naeem Mehmood, had opened fake foreign currency accounts in different international banks and the entire amount in these banks had finally landed in the accounts of Hudaibiya Paper Mills Limited.

Against this backdrop, the Sharif family will have to come up with an admissible counter argument to refute the allegations they have been facing. The obvious questions that come to one’s mind are:

The steel mill in Saudi Arabia was purchased by the Sharif family at a very low price as the mill at the time of purchase was non-operational. What was the price at which the mill was procured and what were the exact contributions by friends and the claimed well-wishers? Which Saudi banks provided loans and what were the exact amounts procured for this purpose? Do they mean that no part of the wealth earned in Pakistan was used to fund the steel mill in Saudi Arabia?

Hussain Nawaz claims the steel mill that he bought did roaring business and generated huge profits. Will he be willing to share the audited accounts of the mill that helped them make a fortune from scratch? He adds that the amount from the sale of this mill was transferred to the UK, where two flats were purchased in Park Lane in London. He further reveals that his brother Hassan Nawaz, operating as a real estate developer in the UK, funds these transactions.

Similarly, he says, his sister Maryam Safdar is only a trustee while he himself is the beneficial owner of various enterprises, which are under the family’s control. On the other hand, the Panama Papers show her signing mortgage papers as a beneficial owner of a company.

In December 2013, PM Nawaz Sharif provided the statement of assets to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the years 2012-13. He stated he had received Rs197.4 million remittances from his son, Hussain Nawaz.

When asked by journalists about documentary proofs to back the above-mentioned claims, he simply said Hussain Nawaz left Pakistan in 1992 and is, therefore, not a resident. He claims exemption under Pakistani tax law that states if you are not staying in Pakistan for more than 138 days, then you are not required to declare your assets.

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

shahzada irfan
The author is a staff reporter and can be reached at [email protected]

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