Saturday June 15, 2024

UK paper apologises to PM Shehbaz

PM Shehbaz wins landslide apology, withdrawal of all allegations of corruption from publishers of Mail newspapers

By Mumtaz Alvi & Murtaza Ali Shah
December 09, 2022
PM Shehbaz Sharif. The News/File
PM Shehbaz Sharif. The News/File 

LONDON/ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has won a landslide apology and withdrawal of all allegations of corruption from the publishers of the Mail newspapers over an article by reporter David Rose that had accused Shehbaz and his son-in-law Imran Ali Yousaf of stealing British taxpayers’ money.

It can be revealed exclusively that Daily Mail publishers have deleted the article - “Did the family of Pakistani politician who has become the poster boy for British overseas aid STEAL funds meant for earthquake victims, asks David Rose” - that had caused a huge controversy in Pakistan when it was published on 14th July 2019.

David Rose had especially visited Pakistan during the PTI government ahead of the publication.

Daily Mail took down its article on Thursday within minutes after informing the court that it had decided not to go for trial and decided to settle the case with Shehbaz Sharif and Imran Ali Yousaf.

Not just that, Daily Mail has promised it will work with Google to remove every link that contained allegations of corruption against Shehbaz Sharif, based on Daily Mail’s sensational but false article. This correspondent understands from credible sources inside the Mail newspaper that it wasadvised by its own lawyers on several occasions that it had no chance of winning defamation case against Shehbaz Sharif in the trial, as the allegations of corruption were unfounded, baseless, politically-motivated concerning Pakistan and the newspaper will never be able to bring any evidence to support its exaggerated claims of corruption and wrongdoing.

The agreement between the Associated Newspapers, Shahbaz Sharif and Imran Ali Yousaf submitted before Justice Matthew Nicklin at the UK High Court of Justice’s Queen Bench Division informs the court that all parties have decided to withdraw their claims after it was agreed that Associated Newspapers will apologise to Mr Sharif and his son-in-law.

The agreement informs the court that the defamation dispute was brought to the court by Shehbaz Sharif after Mail on Sunday and Mail Online accused Shehbaz Sharif of corruption on 14th July 2019.

The agreement makes a reference to the trial of preliminary meaning on 5th February 2021 at the UK High Court which was clearly won by Shahbaz Sharif when Justice Nicklin found that the words used in the Mail article were the highest level of defamation for Shehbaz Sharif and his son-in-law and that the newspaper must bring evidence to prove each and every allegation.

Justice Nicklin had found that the article alleged that “Mr Sharif was party to and the principal beneficiary of money laundering of tens of millions of pounds which represented the proceeds of his embezzlement, whilst he was the chief minister of Punjab, of substantial sums of public money, including a not insubstantial sum of British public money that had been paid to the province in DFID grant aid and other corrupt payments received in the form of kickbacks or commission from government run projects.”

The Daily Mail’s withdrawal of article, removal of allegations and apology to Shehbaz Sharif is an admission of withdrawal of everything in line with the findings of Justice Matthew Nicklin, as the judge found the ordinary meaning to be Chase Level-1 defamation category. At the same meaning trial at High Court, the Mail lawyers had told the judge that the paper didn’t accuse Shahbaz Sharif of corruption and also accepted that it didn’t have the evidence of corruption but Justice Nicklin had asked the Mail lawyers to prepare for the evidence and also stated that proceedings in the UK court will have no bearings of any outcome of Shahbaz Sharif’s cases in Pakistan.

According to terms of the agreement with ANL, PM Shehbaz Sharif has filed a Consent Order at Court, staying the claim against ANL and informing the court that he no longer wanted to proceed in the case after achieving the desired results of apology, removal of article and vindication.

The News and Geo have access to full court bundle (over 700 pages) which shows that Shahbaz Sharif has won apology on each and every allegation of corruption made in David Rose’s article and as a result his article has been taken down from the website and it’s no more available for the public to access. The agreement says, “ANL will permanently remove the Article from the MailOnline within 3 days of the Effective Date”. The paper has accepted that it will also publish a clarification and retraction when Sharif’s NAB cases are decided in Pakistan.

About the apology on DFID funds allegations, the paper has told the court that it will withdraw all allegations in “the clarifications and corrections column of an edition of the Mail on Sunday, either in the edition immediately following the Effective Date or on the following Sunday (subject to reasonable editorial discretion); and “to be accessible via a link in the clarifications and corrections column of the MailOnline for a period of 24 hours (and thereafter remain in the archive) within 48 hours of the removal of the Article or the Effective Date (whichever is later) subject to reasonable editorial discretion”. The court has been informed that each party will bear their own costs incurred in relation to the dispute and the claim. The Daily Mail has published the following apology and clarification on its website after removing article by David Rose.

“In an article concerning Mr Shahbaz Sharif entitled ’Did the family of Pakistani politician who has become the poster boy for British overseas aid STEAL funds meant for earthquake victims’ published on 14 July 2019 we reported on an investigation by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau into Mr Sharif and suggested that the money under investigation included a not insubstantial sum of British public money that had been paid to the Punjab province in DFID grant aid. We accept Mr Sharif has never been accused by the National Accountability Bureau of any wrongdoing in relation to British public money or DFID grant aid. We are pleased to make this clear and apologise to Mr Sharif for this error.” A week after the story was published, Shehbaz Sharif had announced he will take legal action against The Mail for publishing a “fabricated and misleading story”.

He had accused the paper of publishing the story “on the behest of [Prime Minister] Imran Khan and [premier’s aide] Shahzad Akbar” and said that he will initiate legal proceedings against the latter two as well.

The article, written by David Rose and quoting investigators, Shahzad Akbar, Transparency International and a “confidential investigation report”, claimed that the money “stolen” by the PML-N president, between the 2005 earthquake and 2012, also came from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)-funded aid projects.

“For years he was feted as a Third World poster boy by Britain’s Department for International Development, which poured more than £500 million of UK taxpayers’ money into his province in the form of aid,” said the report.

“Last year, the head of DFID’s Pakistan office Joanna Rowley lauded his ‘dedication’.”

DFID in its rebuttal had said The Mail on Sunday provides little substantial evidence to support its headline: ‘Did the family of UK aid’s poster boy steal taxpayers’ cash meant for earthquake victims?’

“The UK taxpayer got exactly what it paid for and helped the vulnerable victims of a devastating earthquake. We are confident our robust systems protected UK taxpayers from fraud,” said DFID quoting its response to the question asked in the headline.

Talking about where and how the laundered funds were stolen, the article claimed one case has already come to court – “a guilty plea by Ikram Naveed, the former finance director of Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra), which received £54 million from DFID between then and 2012, both for immediate relief and long-term schemes to rebuild victims’ lives”. 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.

The paper had alleged that legal documents allege that Shehbaz’s son-in-law received about £1 million from a fund established to rebuild the lives of earthquake victims; stolen millions were laundered in Birmingham and then allegedly transferred to Shahbaz family’s accounts by UK branches of banks including Barclays and HSBC; Britain’s National Crime Agency is working closely with Pakistani investigators and Home Secretary Sajid Javid is discussing the possible extradition of members of Shahbaz’s family who have taken refuge in London.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has welcomed his defamation case victory at the UK High Court dedicating it to the people of Pakistan who were “defamed and assaulted” internationally through false allegations in the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail. Reacting to the development, the PM said, “This is not an apology to me, this is an apology to the people of Pakistan who were defamed by Daily Mail article, published by David Rose.”

PM Sharif accused that Imran Khan and his accountability adviser Shahzad Akbar had used a UK newspaper to damage Pakistan internationally to propagate that Pakistan used and misappropriated aid funds. “This was a false allegation made to hurt interests of Pakistan internationally. There was no truth to these allegations and it’s now proved.”

PM Shehbaz Sharif said that Shahzad Akbar had assured David Rose that he would arrange witnesses and evidence for him from Pakistan but then arranged fake stories and fake witnesses for his cooked-up corruption stories. “None of this added up when it came to the real test and the Daily Mail decided to apologise to me.”

In a series of tweets, Shehbaz Sharif thanked Allah. He said, “I bow my head in humility before Allah (SWT) for my vindication. For 3 long years, Imran & his minions went to any limit to assassinate my character. In their smear campaign, they didn’t bother if their actions brought a bad name to country & damaged its relations with friendly countries.

“They mocked & ridiculed me & my family through their baseless allegations but I had my unwavering faith in Allah, for only He could expose their brazen lies. Disinformation & fake news have limited shelf life & truth is the ultimate victor. After NCA, the Daily Mail story has proved it.”

Federal Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb Thursday said Daily Mail’s apology to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was a slap in the face for the opponents.

“Allah Almighty has made Shehbaz Sharif proud, as no corruption whatsoever has been proved against him. Daily Mail’s apology has not only made Shahbaz Sharif, but the people of Pakistan esteemed,” Marriyum said in a statement.

The minister said Daily Mail could not present evidence in the court in defence of its allegations. The entire case against Shehbaz Sharif went through trial after which Daily Mail apologized unconditionally to Shehbaz Sharif, she noted.

“Imran Khan and Shahzad Akbar should apologise, not Daily Mail,” she maintained.

Imran Khan and Shahzad Akbar, she pointed out, made baseless and false allegations against Sharif family: Imran Khan created political instability after coming to power in 2018 and he handed the NAB reference over to Daily Mail.

She contended that Imran conspired against Shehbaz Sharif by calling David Rose and making him sit next to him and also made him conduct talk shows. “He (Imran) used to say that Shehbaz Sharif pocketed the money of earthquake victims. He accused the man who developed Punjab with his blood and sweat for 10 years. Imran Khan and Shahzad Akbar accused people baselessly and disgraced them,” said the minister.