Qatari twist to Pak PM's panama woes

Sharif clan’s earlier narrative explaining how it acquired expensive London flats has been hit by a royal bombshell

Published: 02nd December 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd December 2016 07:09 AM   |  A+A-

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AMIT BANDRE

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been living on a knife’s edge ever since the Panama Leaks engulfed him and his business-savvy clan earlier this year. He has so far led a charmed life, despite the sharks among his political opponents circling around him with increasing menace.

But the ball has come out of the court of politics and has landed in the court of justice. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has become seized of the issue of corruption at the highest level after a petition moved by former cricket idol and of late Nawaz’s principal nemesis, Imran Khan. Politics in Pakistan is as dirty and cut-throat as in any other democratic polity and Nawaz’s opponents now smell blood in the wake of the Panama Leaks and want to go for the kill. Nawaz and his enterprising clan have themselves to blame for their plight.

The Nawaz clan has dug itself into a deep hole because of their lying, literally through the teeth, since the Panama scandal took them and the country by storm. As an old saying goes, one comes up with a hundred lies in order to justify and cover up just one lie. That dilemma is well and truly haunting the Nawaz clan.

The focus of interest in Pakistan over the Panama allegations is riveted on two offshore companies, Nielson Enterprises Ltd. and Nescoll Ltd., both registered in the British Virgin Islands, and owned by the two sons of Nawaz, Hussain and Hasan, with his daughter, Mariam, being the beneficiary in these companies. These offshore companies own four flats in London’s Mayfair district renowned for its upscale, luxury properties.

In 1993, when the four flats were purchased, their value, according to the UK’s land registry documents, was listed at 5 million dollars. With property prices in Central London going through the roof in the years since, one can well imagine what their current net worth would be. In its submission to Pakistan’s apex court, Imran’s political party PTI (Pakistan Tehreek- e-Insaf, or Movement for Justice) has described in detail the web of deceit and subterfuge spun by Nawaz and his family to transfer funds for these properties and offshore companies out of Pakistan.

Dummy bank accounts were opened in the names of people who didn’t exist. The trail went through several bogus accounts before ending up in the US and UK, where business cronies of Nawaz smoothed out the money trail for their mentor and his family.

All through the high tension drama in the Pakistani Parliament and in the news media which has been literally going to town over the hidden, juicy, tidbits, Nawaz has portrayed himself and his family as victims of slander from his political opponents and mud-slinging from a histrionic media. Nawaz and his clan have consistently argued that “not a rupee” was sent out of Pakistan for these properties.

In an emotional defence of his and his family’s reputation from the floor of the Parliament, Nawaz bemoaned that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had gone for his family’s jugular when he nationalised all their business in 1972 and left his father Mian M o h a m m a d S h a r i f “penniless”. But then, he argued, his generous Arab friends in Dubai, helped him set up a steel mill in 1973. That mill was sold some years down the road, at a “handsome profit”, according to son Hussain as recorded in a television interview, and used to set up another steel mill in Saudi Arabia, with the help, once again, of “generous Arab friends” of the Sharif clan.

That enterprise in Saudi Arabia, the narrative goes, was too sold off some years later, once again at a sizeable profit. Those funds, according to Nawaz’s son, were used to buy the flats in London, not in 1993, as claimed in the registry documents, but in 2006.

That family narrative—with the largesse of generous Emirati and Saudi friends as its centrepiece—had been repeated ad nauseam by every member of the Sharif clan to parry each and every cut and thrust of their political and media opponents. But that was until the Supreme Court asked Nawaz to come up with documentary evidence to support their narrative. In response, suddenly last week, team Nawaz submitted an affidavit from a prince belonging to the Qatari ruling family before the court which turned the earlier narrative on its head.

The Qatari affidavit claims that the prince owed an amount of several million dollars to the Sharif family and settled the debt, in 2006, by “transferring” the four flats— the same Mayfair flats—he owned in London to Nawaz’s sons. The question is, who’s lying—the Qatari prince or the Sharif clan? Until last week, the flats had been owned by the Sharif family since 2006. But it now transpires that they got it from the Qatari prince in lieu of the money owed to them. Rightly, the court has said it may ask the Qatari prince to appear before it to explain his affidavit.

Nawaz’s political rivals are now crying themselves hoarse over the intriguing entry of the Qatari royal in a drama of megadeception. Apart from the many selfincriminating lies of the Sharif clan—for instance, one from his daughter who claimed, as late as 2011 that she owned no property abroad or in Pakistan— Nawaz runs the risk of being disqualified as a member of the Parliament because he never mentioned any property abroad in the papers filed b e f o r e t h e E l e c t i o n Commission. The old adage, a lie has no legs to stand on, still has currency.

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