British tabloid accuses Shehbaz Sharif of laundering quake victims’ aid money

London: A British tabloid on Sunday accused Shehbaz Sharif, former Chief Minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province, of embezzling millions of pounds meant for quake victims.

According to a recent report by the Daily Mail, Britain’s Department for International Development (DIFD) had given Sharif and his government the aide donated by taxpayers to help those affected in the 2005 Pakistan earthquake.

“All the time that DFID was heaping him and his government with praise and taxpayers’ cash, Shahbaz and his family were embezzling tens of millions of pounds of public money and laundering it in Britain,” the report read. “They (the investigators) are convinced that some of the allegedly stolen money came from DFID-funded aid projects,” the report read.

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Suggesting how the laundered funds were stolen, the report cited a guilty plea submitted by Ikram Naveed, the former finance director of Pakistan’s Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Authority (ERRA). The ERRA was set up after the devastating 2005 earthquake and had received 54 million pounds from DFID between then and 2012, both for immediate relief and long-term schemes to rebuild victims’ lives.

“Naveed is described in Pakistan as the ‘right-hand man’ of Ali Imran, Shahbaz’s son-in-law, who is married to his daughter Rabia. Naveed pleaded guilty and confessed last November to embezzling about PS1.5 million from ERRA during the period DFID was funding it, of which he passed on almost PS1 million to Ali Imran.”

The DFID on Sunday discredited the report, saying that it provides no substantial evidence to prove that the stolen money came from DFID-funded aid projects.

“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,” read the statement, as cited by Geo News.

“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.

Meanwhile, Shehbaz has said that he would file a lawsuit against the British daily for the ” fabricated and misleading story published at the behest of Imran Khan and Shahzad Akbar.”

“Have 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. Btw IK has yet to respond to three such cases I filed against him for defamation,” Sharif wrote on Twitter.

Shehbaz, 67, served as the Chief Minister of the politically crucial Punjab province from 2013 to 2018. He became PML-N president after his elder brother and three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified as the party president following a Supreme Court verdict in 2017.

Shehbaz is facing corruption charges pertaining to the 56 companies cases including the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Society scam and the Ramzan Sugar Mills case.

However, Shehbaz and his family have denied any wrongdoing and alleged that the corruption cases against them were politically motivated.

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