Panama leaks: PML-N goes on the offensive to silence critics

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Federal Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage along with others addressing a press conference at PID Media Centre. —APP photo by Saleem Rana
Federal Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage along with others addressing a press conference at PID Media Centre. —APP photo by Saleem Rana

ISLAMABAD: The revelations contained in the Panama Papers remained the primary bone of contention between the PML-N and PTI on Wednesday as leaders from both sides accused each other of bending the truth and siphoning off funds into offshore companies.

Following Imran Khan’s press conference in Peshawar earlier in the day, the government’s team took the fight to the PTI chief when they accused him of ‘losing’ an investment of nearly $18 million, allegedly made from Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust (SKMT) funds.

The five-member panel, which was led by Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, included CADD Minister Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, Privatisation Commission Chair­man Mohammad Zubair and MNAs Daniyal Aziz and Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha

“When is Imran Khan selling his house to make up for the lost SKMT charity funds, as he promised,” the information minister asked, pointedly.

Brandishing documents regarding SKMT finances, he claimed that an investment of $28m was made from the trust’s funds, but it was later discovered that the property was worth around $10m. This, he said, was no secret because it was mentioned in financial statements for the years 2010 and 2014.

He said that the prospect of the $18 million being returned was based on the assumption that the value of the property would hopefully increase beyond the $10m cost price. “Why didn’t SKMT invest this money in Pakistan, as they ask others to do,” he asked, rhetorically.

Part of this money, he said, consisted of finances from the general fund, which included the donations of well-meaning citizens. He alleged that over Rs100m had been transferred from SKMT’s general fund to an endowment fund several times from 2008 to 2010.

Daniyal Aziz alleged Imtiaz Hydari, chairman of SKMT’s investment committee, was also the CEO, executive vice chairman and board director of HBG Holdings Ltd — the Dubai-based company through which the money was invested.

Ruling out the possibility of the prime minister’s resignation, the information minister said that the Panama Papers had only made certain private information public, but raised no questions about the Sharif family, unlike the case of the Icelandic prime minister, who had to step down.

He also appeared confident about the PML-N’s future, come 2018.

He taunted Imran Khan, saying that since the PTI was losing political space, it was trying to achieve political gains by lying to the people.

The government, he said, was always ready to present itself for accountability, adding that this was the second judicial commission they had formed since coming to power.

On govt turf

Not to be outdone, the PTI responded on Wednesday night by announcing a press conference at the Press Information Department, which is usually considered the government’s stomping ground.

In a tersely-worded statement, PTI spokesperson Naeemul Haq lashed out at the government for using state resources to defend the prime minister’s family members. “Following the press conference by government ministers, the party has decided to hold its next press conference there at 3pm on Thursday (today). If there is any resistance, we will not hesitate to approach the courts,” the statement quoted him as saying.

He also called on PTV to afford Mr Khan the opportunity to address the nation as well.

Responding in kind to the government’s ad hominem attacks, Mr Haq accused the government team of lying through their teeth. “Even Mr Khan’s opponents acknowledge his honesty,” he said.

The statement also said that the chief executive of SKMT would soon brief the media to dispel the government’s lies regarding the trust’s financial matters.

When asked about the PTI’s plans to hold a press conference at PID, a senior information officer told Dawn that once a written request was made, the issue would be taken up with the information minister.

Government MNAs Talal Chaudhry and Daniyal Aziz had, in September last year, offered PTI the use of PID’s premises for their press conferences, saying that public sector institutions such as PID and PTV were open to all political parties and wouldn’t be restricted to “only our use”.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2016