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July 15, 2019

DFID discredits report by Daily Mail

Top Story

July 15, 2019

LONDON: In a day of interesting developments, British government rejected a media report that former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his family had embezzled millions of Pounds of British taxpayers while Prime Minister Imran Khan’s accountability advisor Shahzad Akbar called Suleman Shahbaz ‘the main culprit in the laundering of UK aid fund for earthquake victims’ and Shahbaz Sharif announced to launch defamation case in UK against the Mail on Sunday.

The heated day started after the Mail on Sunday published a report by David Rose questioning whether Shahbaz Sharif had stolen money of UK taxpayers meant for earthquake victims. The paper, known for opposing UK giving foreign aid to developing countries, then alleged that Sharif had embezzled tens of millions of Pounds.

The allegations caused a stir in Pakistani media as government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf presented allegations by Mail on Sunday as a major piece of investigation proving money laundering by Shahbaz Sharif and his family. Within two hours the British government issued a strong rebuttal, discrediting report by the Mail on Sunday.

The Department for International Development (DFID) rejected the report that Sharif family had laundered quake victims’ aid money and had embezzled tens of millions of pounds of public money.

The paper in its report had suggested that Opposition Leader in the National Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz President Shehbaz Sharif and his family stole British taxpayers’ money given to Pakistan’s Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Authority (ERRA) set up to help the victims of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake.

The former Punjab Chief Minister said he had “decided to file law suit against Daily Mail. The fabricated and misleading story was published at the behest of Imran Khan and Shahzad Akbar. We will also launch legal proceedings against them.”

In its statement, the DFID said: “The UK’s financial support to ERRA over this period was for payment by results – which means we only gave money once the agreed work, which was primarily focused on building schools, was completed, and the work audited and verified.”

“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,” it added.

DFID further said the Mail on Sunday provided little substantial evidence. “The report says investigators in Pakistan “are convinced that some of the allegedly stolen money came from DFID-funded aid projects” without providing any substantial evidence this was the case with the earthquake fund”.

The DFID statement added that the piece goes on to quote Shahzad Akbar, Prime Minister Imran Khan's Asset Recovery Unit chief, saying it “appears” some money “may” have been stolen from aid and development projects, again without offering any substantial evidence this was the case with ERRA.

The DFID added it has given The Mail on Sunday some background on its work in Pakistan. “We told the paper how DFID’s work is lifting millions of the poorest people out of poverty whilst improving stability and security in both the UK and Pakistan, which ultimately benefits the UK as well. Over 10 million children in primary schools – including 4.7 million girls – have benefited from UK education programmes since 2011. Over 5.8 million children in secondary schools, including 2.7 million girls, have also benefited from our work,” it said, adding the UK has supported over 8 million people in Pakistan following natural disasters and conflict since 2011.

Speaking to The News, Shahzad Akbar said alleged that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif’s son Suleman Shehbaz is the main culprit in the laundering of UK aid fund for earthquake victims.

Shahzad Akbar said that Suleman Shehbaz was summoned to Pakistan several times in relation to the allegations but he didn’t appear. Akbar requested the UK government to extradite the suspects or give access to them.

Suleman, Shahbaz told the MoS: “This is a witch-hunt against my family. It is similar to what happened at Guantanamo Bay, and under apartheid in South Africa. There is a clique around Imran Khan which is trying to shut out the opposition and they are picking out my family members in order to harass them. The law allows foreign remittances and each and every penny I received came through proper banking channels, cleared by the State Bank of Pakistan. [The investigators] are just releasing funny stories in the media. I deny their version. I have done everything according to the law.”

The MoS investigation said: “After winning election on a pledge to combat corruption, Imran Khan set up a special team to deal with it, the Asset Recovery Unit, headed by a UK-educated barrister. They have examined a series of suspicious transactions running to many millions and shown that Shehbaz’s family’s assets grew enormously during the years he was in power,” the report stated.

The report further alleged that Sharif family was worth just £150,000 in 2003 but by 2018 their total assets had grown to about £200 million. "Among other properties, Shehbaz owns a 53,000 sq ft palace in Lahore, which has its own large security force,” said the report.

DFID said it was ‘well aware’ about Pakistan being ‘corrupt environment’. However, since 2014, DFID gave more aid to Pakistan than any other country – up to £463 million a year. According to the report, the family’s legitimate income sources could not account for their riches. The money, the report said, was channeled from abroad – via several elaborate money-laundering schemes, in which Britain played a central role.

The report also claimed laundered payments were made to Shehbaz’s children, his wife and his son-in-law Ali Imran. But it added Shehbaz "was the principal beneficiary of this money-laundering enterprise, by way of spending, acquisition of properties and their expansion into palatial houses where he lived."

The Mail on Sunday further revealed that according to the documents in its possession, Shehbaz’s son-in-law received about £1million from a fund established to rebuild the lives of earthquake victims – to which DFID gave £54 million from UK taxpayers.

“Investigators have launched inquiries into alleged thefts from DFID-funded schemes to give poor women cash to lift them out of poverty and to provide healthcare for rural families,” the report said.

Stolen millions were laundered in Birmingham and then allegedly transferred to Shehbaz’s family accounts by UK branches of banks including Barclays and HSBC, it added. Self-confessed Birmingham money-launderer Aftab Mehmood told the Mail on Sunday that he had his accounts audited every three months by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – who failed to notice anything was amiss, the report said.

The publication stated that Britain’s National Crime Agency was working closely with Pakistani investigators and Home Secretary Sajid Javid was discussing the possible extradition of members of Shehbaz’s family who have taken refuge in London.

The DFID has been running a £1.75 million project designed to ‘reduce the exposure to fraud and corruption’ of UK aid but it has referred just one individual to the Pakistani authorities for trying to steal UK funds.

Former International Development Secretary and Indian origin Priti Patel has demanded an enquiry be done into the corruption. She said: “As someone who has served as Secretary of State at DFID, I find it shocking that British funds may have been abused, especially given the background of poverty in Pakistan which aid is meant to alleviate.”

Pakistan’s Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Authority, set up after the devastating quake of 2005, received £54 million from DFID between then and 2012, both for immediate relief and long-term schemes to rebuild victims’ lives.

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