PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif has sent a legal notice to British publication The Mail on Sunday and online news site Mail Online, and its journalist David Rose, about an article published on July 14, it emerged on Friday.
According to a press release, dated July 25 and issued by London-based legal firm Carter-Ruck Solicitors, a formal legal complaint was issued against the news outlets and investigative journalist Rose for the “gravely defamatory” story.
The story published earlier this month claimed that Sharif, the former chief minister of Punjab, had embezzled funds provided by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for the rehabilitation of the 2005 earthquake. It quoted Assets Recovery Unit Chief Shahzad Akbar and a few other individuals — none of whom were in an official position. The story was quickly refuted by the PML-N and the party had insisted that it was published “on the behest of [Prime Minister] Imran Khan”. It was also rejected by DFID, that said the body’s “robust systems protected UK taxpayers from fraud”.
“The article is gravely defamatory of Mr Sharif, including false allegations that he misappropriated UK taxpayers’ money in the form of DFID aid intended for the victims of the devastating 2005 earthquake in Pakistan,” the press release read.
“I am utterly appalled by these allegations,” the press release quoted Sharif as saying.
The statement further said that if there had been any evidence of the allegations levelled against Sharif, he would have been “arrested and charged”.
It added: “At no stage were the allegations properly put to me in advance of publication. Had they been, I would have pointed out — among other matters — that at the time of the earthquake in 2005, I was not even in Pakistan but living in exile in the UK.”
Sharif, in his statement, repeated his claim that the story was part of a “politically motivated campaign” initiated by the premier and his aide Akbar against the former Punjab chief minister.
The article, ‘Did the family of UK aid’s poster boy steal taxpayers’ cash meant for earthquake victims?’, quoted Shahbaz’s son Suleman as denying the allegations against him and his family, saying they were the product of a ‘political witch-hunt’ ordered by Prime Minister Imran Khan. “No allegation has been proven. There is no evidence of kickbacks,” he is quoted as saying in the report.
According to the writer, The Mail was given “exclusive access” to some of the results of a high-level probe ordered by Prime Minister Imran.
“We were also able to interview key witnesses held on remand in jail, including a UK citizen Aftab Mehmood. He claims he laundered millions on behalf of Shahbaz’s family from a nondescript office in Birmingham – without attracting suspicion from Britain’s financial regulators, who inspected his books regularly,” said the report.