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ISLAMABAD: In a move that seems to be plucked from the pages of a detective story, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing allegations of money laundering against the Sharif family has concluded that certain documents were created ‘post-facto’ on the basis of the font used in them.

In its quest to establish the actual ownership of Nescoll Ltd and Neilsen Enterprises Ltd — the offshore entities that own the four London properties which are at the heart of the Panama Papers case — the JIT sought an expert opinion from Radley Forensic Document Labora­tory, a UK-based agency.

In the Panama Papers, a number of documents naming Mariam Safdar — the married name of Maryam Nawaz Sharif — as the beneficial owner of the two offshore companies, also surfaced.

These were denied by Ms Sharif and on Nov 15, 2016, she tweeted trust documents that showed that she was merely a trustee and not the beneficial owner of the two companies that own the Avenfield House properties.

Forensic expert engaged by JIT concludes that trust documents were created after the fact

In January 2017, Bastian Obermayer — the Pulitzer prize-winning Süddeutsche Zeitung journalist who broke the Panama Papers story — released a spate of documents contradicting Ms Sharif’s claims.

These included a copy of her passport, alongside emails and documents bearing the particulars of Mariam Safdar.

In its report, the JIT noted that when she appeared before investigators on July 5, Ms Sharif brought along a copy of the “Nescoll/Neilsen declaration”, the document that she had earlier released on Twitter.

The JIT’s report, quoting forensic handwriting and document examiner Robert W. Radley, noted that he had "identified the type font used to produce both certified declarations as ‘Calibri’. However, [the font] was not commercially available before Jan 31, 2007 and as such, neither of the [documents] is correctly dated and [appear] to have been created at some later point in time."

On the basis of this analysis, the JIT concludes that not only Maryam Nawaz Sharif “was (and probably still is) the real and ultimate beneficial owner of the Avenfield properties”, it adds that the “claim of... being the ‘trustee’ was an attempt to mislead” the court.

What is Calibri

According to the Micro­soft website, the Calibri font was authored by type designer Luc de Groot and version 0.90, the first version that appears to have been copyrighted by the Microsoft Corpora­tion, was registered in 2004.

Different versions of the font were copyrighted between 2005 and 2012, while the Microsoft website also detailed which specific versions of the font are supplied with which product.

In a statement on the Quora online community, Thomas Phinney, CEO of Fontlab, stated that “Calibri reached the general public on January 30, 2007, with the release of Microsoft Office 2007 and Windows Vista on that date.”

He goes on to note that “Calibri first saw availability outside Microsoft in a Windows beta release on Aug 9, 2004.”

The post claimed that these remarks were taken from a sworn affidavit, filed in a “legal case involving a document that used Calibri, but was impossibly dated to March 2002”.

After receiving several queries on the matter, he posted the following addendum on Tuesday night: “I gather many people are using this post in a debate about a document produced by the prime minister of Pakistan, using Calibri and dated to 2006. Again: be aware that pre-release versions of Windows are not generally used for typical office documents; just because it is physically possible that Calibri could be in a random document dated to 2006 does not make it at all likely.”

When contacted, Mr Phinney told Dawn: “It is technically possible for the document to be authentic. But it is unlikely enough that those trying to claim it is authentic have considerable explaining to do.”

Wikipedia edits

The story, which appealed to many tech-savvy social media users, was hotly debated on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. After #Fontgate — as it was dubbed on social media — went viral, the Wikipedia page for the Calibri font was edited several times by anonymous users from within Pakistan, prompting the site to ‘lock’ the page.

Most of these edits changed the font’s date of release from 2007 to 2004.

Saqib Qayyum, a member of the Wikipedia help desk, told Dawn the page did not see a single edit on July 9 or 10, but was edited 36 times (including seven clean-up edits by Mr Qayyum) on July 11.

“I was trying to remove the unverified information being added by anonymous people from Pakistan and outside the country. I nominated the page to be locked down due to content dispute issue and to prevent any further editing,” he said, adding that the page would be open to editing in a week’s time.

Aasma Mojiz also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2017