British tabloid claims Shahbaz embezzled UK aid, PML-N denies charges

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz group chief and Opposition leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif

Islamabad,  The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Sunday denied reports by British tabloid ‘Daily Mail’ that its leader Shahbaz Sharif embezzled millions given to Pakistan by the UK in aid.

According to the Pakistani media, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb slammed report that accused Shahbaz Sharif of “embezzling tens of millions of pounds of public money and laundering it in Britain”.

The Daily Mail on Sunday reported: “DFID admits it is ‘well aware’ that Pakistan is a ‘corrupt environment’. However, since 2014, DFID has given more aid to Pakistan than any other country – up to £463 million a year.”

Part of the report featured an interview with Aftab Mehmood, whom the Daily Mail called a key witness. A British citizen, Mehmood was arrested during a trip to Pakistan in April and is being held at a Lahore jail, according to the report.

“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.

Legal documents allege that Shahbaz’s son-in-law received about £1 million from a fund established to rebuild the lives of earthquake victims – to which DFID gave £54 million from UK taxpayers, it said, adding that stolen millions were laundered in Birmingham and then allegedly transferred to Shahbaz’s family’s accounts by UK branches of banks including Barclays and HSBC.

The report also alleged 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 Shahbaz’s family who have taken refuge in London.

The report claimed that laundered payments were made to Shahbaz’s children, his wife and his son-in-law Ali Imran. But it added that Shahbaz “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.” It also cited investigations against Ali Imran.

Rubbishing the report in a series of Tweets posted via the PML-N’s official Twitter account, Aurangzeb said the British government conducted an independent audit of the funds and Punjab government supported it. “The government of Punjab worked with honesty and diligence and used the funds for the people,” she added.

According to Pakistani media, Aurangzeb’s tweets accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of being behind the report.