A 1999 BBC HardTalk interview of the prime minister's son resurfaced on social media this week, drawing attention to a possible link between property owned by the Sharif family in London and revelations made in the Panama Papers earlier this month.
In the interview, Hassan Nawaz is apparently cornered by Tim Sebastian and fumbles to answer questions regarding the ownership of a flat in London's upscale Mayfair locale.
Hassan Nawaz appears visibly uncomfortable during the interview, which was filmed shortly after Nawaz's ouster from government by former president Pervez Musharraf, as Sebastian grills Hassan about the ownership of the Mayfair flat he lives in.
"I'm living on a rent basis which comes ─ in every quarter ─ from Pakistan," Hassan says, evading Sebastian's queries. "I'm not earning. I'm just like any other student living with his parents. I don't necessarily have to know the facts and who owns the flat, and who pays for the rent and who pays for my living," Hassan says.
"I'm not the right person to answer this question," he says.
When Sebastian puts forward the possibility that the flat "is apparently owned by two offshore companies called Nielsen Enterprises Ltd and Nescoll Ltd, both registered in the British Virgin Islands and managed by a company in Switzerland", Hassan responds: "I've got nothing to say about that. I'm absolutely ignorant. What can I say?"
The premier's son denies knowledge of the flat's ownership and indicates his rent is paid through funds obtained by means of the family's business in Pakistan.
When asked about rumours of an offshore bank account, he says: "I can speak on my behalf and say... that I do not own any offshore accounts in any country, in any bank," adding that he does maintain a student account used to pay his fees and daily expenses.
Data published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shows Maryam Nawaz as a beneficiary of Nielsen and Nescoll, the companies registered by Minerva Trust & Corporate Services Ltd, that allegedly 'own' the Mayfair apartment 'rented' by Hassan in 1999.
According to documents available on the ICIJ website, the PM’s children Maryam, Hassan and Hussain “were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several companies”.
The old interview has prompted calls on Twitter for the Sharifs to explain their position on undeclared wealth and assets offshore.
After the Panama Papers leak, PM Nawaz's other son, Hussain Nawaz, accepted the family's ownership of offshore companies Nielsen and Nescoll.
"Those apartments are ours and those offshore companies are also ours," Hussain said while speaking to a TV channel after news of the Panama Papers broke.
In a separate interview, Hussain says: "The Park Lane apartments in London are ours, two offshore companies, Nielsen and Nescoll, own these flats and I am the beneficial owner of these companies, working under a trust held by my sister Maryam Nawaz Sharif."
He went on to reveal ownership of three offshore companies but claimed to have never invested 'black money' anywhere in the world.
What the Panama Papers reveal
The data from the Panama Papers, available on the website of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — one of around 100 news organisations and 300 journalists that worked on mining the data simultaneously — also reveals the offshore holdings of members of Prime Minister Sharif’s family.
Maryam is described as “the owner of British Virgin Islands-based firms Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited, incorporated in 1994 and 1993”.
On one of the documents released by ICIJ, the address listed for Nielsen Enterprises is Saroor Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The document, dated June 2012, describes Maryam Nawaz as the ‘beneficial owner’.
According to ICIJ, “Hussain and Maryam signed a document dated June 2007 that was part of a series of transactions in which Deutsche Bank Geneva lent up to $13.8 million to Nescoll, Nielsen and another company, with their London properties as collateral.”
In July 2014, the two companies were transferred to another agent.
Also Read: Probing ‘Panamagate’
Hasan Nawaz Sharif is described as “the sole director of Hangon Property Holdings Limited incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in February 2007, which acquired Liberia-based firm Cascon Holdings Establishment Limited for about $11.2 million in August 2007”.