ISLAMABAD: The revelations contained in the Panama Papers reignited a war of words between PTI and PML-N as Imran Khan claimed the leak had vindicated his stance and asked for a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) investigation into the assets acquired by the Sharif family.

However, the government responded in kind, casting doubt on the PTI chief’s claims of transparency and alleged that Mr Khan’s Bani Gala property was not a gift from his wife, as he had claimed.

At a press conference on Monday afternoon, the PTI chief called on NAB to ascertain how the sons and daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif became beneficiaries of companies worth millions of dollars. “The trail of this money must be investigated,” he said.

He also called upon the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Supreme Court to take notice of the information.

“Based on the leaks, countries such as France, New Zealand and Iceland have already opened investigations, so what is stopping NAB, ECP and our judiciary from initiating their own probe and investigating these allegations,” the PTI chairman said.

He also went after Maryam Nawaz’s spouse Captain Mohammad Safdar, saying that he did not declare any such assets, nor did he reveal that he was the beneficiary of a company owned by his wife. “The Election Commission can de-seat him for this omission alone,” he said.

Mr Khan recalled that such claims were also supported by an affidavit submitted in court by incumbent Finance Minister Ishaq Dar under the regime of Gen Musharraf. Although the court had ruled that the statement was made under duress, Mr Khan said that if Senator Dar’s claims about the alleged money laundering he carried out for the Sharif family was adequately investigated, it would reveal “a web of lies”.

But Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed, who is also the government’s official spokesperson, quickly went on the offensive, challenging Imran Khan to file charges against the PML-N leader in a UK court if he had any proof.

Rather than damaging the PM’s reputation, the Panama Paper had proven that Nawaz Sharif did not own any off-shore holdings, the minister said.

“It is a fact that Nawaz Sharif’s family has been doing business for decades,” he said, recounting the way their livelihood had suffered, first due to the separation of East Pakistan and then the nationalisation of industries in West Pakistan.

“Both of Nawaz Sharif’s sons went abroad in 1997 and were later not allowed to return to Pakistan under the Musharraf regime. So, they started their businesses – just like hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis do abroad – and both pay their taxes regularly,” he said.

The minister mused that Mr Khan would always object; if PM Sharif’s children are working abroad he says it will discourage foreign investment at home. If they do business in Pakistan, he will allege that the PM’s children are taking advantage of their father’s position.

“The fact is that no one could ever prove any of the allegations levelled against the businesses of the Sharif family,” Mr Rasheed said, recalling that Benazir Bhutto and Gen Musharraf, despite their vendettas against the Sharifs, could not do so either.

The minister also alleged that Mr Khan’s Bani Gala property was not purchased transparently.

“He claims that his wife gave him the Bani Gala property, but an affidavit signed by his ex-wife shows that Mr Khan first purchased the property and then handed it over to her,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2016

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