Saturday, 20 July 2019

Panamagate case: PTI seeks to prove Sharif family owned London flats in 1999

ISLAMABAD:  The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has presented before the apex court yet another document offering some clues that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family was in possession of their London flats before 1999. Legal experts, however, claim the freshly submitted document still falls short of being concrete proof of the ruling family’s ownership of the expensive properties. The Supreme Court is currently hearing a slew of petitions primarily seeking Premier Sharif’s disqualification in the wake of the Panama Papers revelations. The PTI is one of the major parties in the case. A treasure trove of classified documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, the Panama Papers in April revealed that three scions of the Sharif family were among dozens of powerful people who owned offshore businesses in international tax havens. Earlier in its response to the PTI allegations, the Sharif family had claimed before the Supreme Court that the London flats were acquired in 2006 as part of a business deal with the Qatari royal family.

The PTI’s new evidence is related to a UK high court decision in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills loan default case. In this case, the Sharif family, which owned the mills, had purportedly pledged Flat 16, Flat 16A, Flat 17, Flat 17A in 1999. The four defendants in the case were Hudabiya Paper Mills Limited, Mian Muhammad Sharif [PM’s father] and Shahbaz Sharif and Abbas Sharif [PM’s brothers]. Along with the UK court’s decision, the PTI has also submitted a two-page document which is based on a communication of a lawyer of the Sharif family’s opponent party and the UK’s land registry. The document said these properties were already pledged in the court and could not be sold by the owners. The communication is sent by Solicitor Kearns. However, legal experts say this document has no worth to deny the claim of the Sharif family. a UK-based solicitor Muzzammil Mukhtar said the document might not be compelling evidence unless the UK’s land registry department was approached for a certified copy of the actual ownership of these properties. “The official copy of the title deed can be obtained from the land registry,” he said.

A senior PTI leader said the land registry department would only provide records to the extent that these properties are owned by two offshore companies – Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited – that bought flats number 16, 17, 17A of Park Lane, London, in the names of these offshore companies. He said the land registry department would refer the matter to British Virgin Island for details of the owners of these companies.  According to the PTI leader, offshore companies protect the real owners and hardly provide any such details to individuals, unless it is communicated through a state. Based on the complicated trail of money, many legal experts believe the court might have to refer the matter to a commission for further probe. When the PTI legal team on Nov 17  apparently failed in pleading its case against the Sharif family, a judge pointed towards two documents present in the PTI’s petition that implicate the PM’s daughter, Maryam Safdar, as “ultimate beneficial owner” of offshore companies as revealed by the Panama Papers. The documents are purported ‘confidential’ communication between British Virgin Islands’ Financial Investigation Agency and Mossack Fonseca’s Money Laundering Reporting Officer J Nizbeth Maduro.

In the said communication, the watchdog on June 12, 2012 sought details about the ‘ultimate beneficial owners’ of both these offshore companies. In two separate letters, addressed to the agency’s then director Errol Georg, Mossack Fonseca’s reporting officer on June 22, 2012 replied: “The beneficial owner of the company is Maryam Safdar.” Reporting Officer Maduro provided the watchdog the same details for both companies with Maryam as owner. Her address in the documents is mentioned as Saroor Palace, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “Two shares have been issued in the company. A copy of the register of shareholders is attached for ease of reference,” Maduro wrote. “We do not have information of any company/(ies) connected to/associated with the company. The company has a loan account with Deutsche Bank Geneva,” he added. Legal experts say these two letters, which were pointed out by the SC’s judge, may weaken the stance of the Sharif family that the PM’s son Hussain Nawaz is beneficial owner of the luxury flats in London and Maryam is only a trustee. A senior PTI leader said one section of the party is urging PTI chief Imran Khan to argue the case himself before the larger bench tomorrow (Wednesday).

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