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Shehbaz defamation case: Daily Mail seeks more time to serve evidence

By Murtaza Ali Shah
December 20, 2021
Shehbaz defamation case: Daily Mail seeks more time to serve evidence

LONDON: The Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publishers of The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, has obtained 5th extension to submit evidence in Shehbaz Sharif defamation case nearly a year after Justice Sir Matthew Nicklin ruled at the London High Court that Mail on Sunday’s article by reporter David Rose carried the highest level of defamatory meaning for both Shehbaz Sharif and his son-in-law Ali Imran Yousaf.

Lawyers for the ANL and reporter David Rose have said that the paper’s legal team faced hurdles in gathering evidence in Pakistan due to Pakistan being on the UK govt’s Red List and that the whole process has proved to be challenging and time consuming.

According to legal papers, the Mail on Sunday’s publisher has said this week that it’s preparation of defence against Shehbaz Sharif and Ali Imran Yousaf’s defamation claim are substantially complete but that it was unable to serve the defence on the previously agreed date of 17 December 2021. While asking for more time to gather evidence from Pakistan, the ANL has assured that it will file defence by 14 January 2022.

However, on 9 November 2021 the lawyers acting for ANL had sought extension till 17 December 2021 stating that it had made significant progress but needed to make more inquiries “including with relevant individuals in Pakistan”.

While seeking extension before that, lawyers of ANL had said on 23 September 2021 that it was unable to serve defence because their lawyers working on the case had long standing commitments. On February 5 this year, Justice Sir Nicklin determined that the level of defamatory meaning for both Shehbaz Sharif and Ali Imran Yousaf was Chase level 1 – the highest form of defamation in English law.

The lawyers of Shehbaz Sharif at Carter-Ruck have previously raised the issue at one point that the defence was using delaying tactics and hiding behind the red listing of Pakistan to buy more time.

In the first week of January 2021, the London High Court had ruled in favour of Shahbaz Sharif and Ali Imran Yousaf in relation to the meaning of reporter David Rose’s article in which it was alleged that Shehbaz Sharif and his son-in-law were involved in money-laundering and embezzlement of the British money meant for Pakistan’s poor people.

At the UK High Court meaning hearing, the Mail lawyer Andrew Caldecott QC had told the judge that the newspaper “concedes” that there were no money-laundering allegations against Shehbaz but his family members and that “actual detailed evidence against Shehbaz Sharif is pretty limited, based on assumptions but his luxurious house is relied on”.

David Rose had said in a tweet after the judgment was published in Pakistani media: “The Shehbaz Sharif defamation case is strictly preliminary. The judgment sets the parameters for the eventual trial, which lies in the future: it determines what the court says the article means. It is not a final outcome.”

On 17 December 2020, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Barrister Shahzad Akbar told a press conference that PMLN President Shehbaz Sharif was the “ring leader of a money-laundering gang” and his sons Hamza and Suleman were involved in corruption and laundering of Rs16 billion in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case.

He said the challan submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against the two members of the Sharif family — Shehbaz and Hamza — in the Ramzan Sugar Mills money-laundering case consisted of more than 4,000 documents and 100 witnesses. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) also found Shehbaz involved in money-laundering, and according to the FIA charge-sheet, he was the “mastermind of the money-laundering group”, Akbar said.

For the UK defamation case, the publication will have to provide enough evidence to substantiate its claims of corruption in UK public funds, money-laundering and illegality. Shahzad Akbar has said that proving this will not be a difficult task and everything can be substantiated. He had told a newspaper that there is ample evidence in the form of “TTs, cheques, on the record confessions”.

But in an interesting observation during the hearing in February, Justice Nicklin said that even if Mr Shehbaz Sharif is convicted in Pakistan, that conviction in itself does not amount to substantial evidence that can be used in a successful defence of truth in the UK.

This means that, if the case goes to trial in the UK, regardless of the outcome in Pakistan and what officials here charge Mr Sharif with, the UK trial court will form its own conclusions about how compelling the evidence is as regards the corruption specified in the article published on 14 July 2019 and headlined “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”.