Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar on Sunday claimed that PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif had not initiated a case against British publication The Mail on Sunday and online news site Mail Online about an article published on July 14.
Akbar, while addressing a press conference in Islamabad, recalled that Sharif had issued a formal legal complaint against the publication and had deemed the "gravely defamatory" news report to be part of a politically motivated campaign against him.
Akbar claimed that the complaint issued via London-based legal firm Carter-Ruck Solicitors did not refute any specific allegation made against Sharif, nor did it say that a case had been filed against the publication.
Akbar added that the journalist behind the report, David Rose, is sticking to his story, and also shared a tweet from him dated July 26:
According to Akbar, although the complaint stated that the article did not include Sharif's version, it included his son's version and his office had also been contacted.
He said the complaint stated that reporting the story had not been in the public's interest. "How was it not in public interest?" Akbar asked, adding that this statement required clarification.
Akbar said that nowhere in the four-page complaint were the allegations in the article denied. "Not one word in the story [was] refuted," he asserted.
"According to Sharif's own law firm, no case has been initiated [against the British publication] as yet," Akbar said. "They complained to the Mail on Sunday saying, [...] 'We are thinking of filing a case against you.' This is not a lawsuit. Going to court is [initiating a lawsuit]."
"If you are in the right, why not go to court?" Akbar asked.
The PM's special assistant challenged Sharif to make his letter of complaint public despite its status as privileged communication.
Earlier, following the publication of the article, Akbar seemed willing to appear against Sharif in a London court. "In that court, I will [produce evidence] of every TT (telegraphic transfer) made by you; how kick backs were sent from here; how money was transferred through hundi and hawala." he had said.
Today, the premier's special assistant recalled his earlier statements, adding: "I can reveal 50-100 times more things [about Sharif's alleged embezzlement] than this story, come to court."
"I am feeling left out. You sent a legal notice to the Mail, send me one too. I have packed my suitcase and I'm ready to appear in court in London, where you likely won't go, and I will stand there and tell the truth about what you've done," he said.
The premier's special assistant also said that Sharif had vowed to take him to court. After publication of the report, the premier's aide had asked the PML-N leader not to back away from his "promise" of filing a case against him.
'Official Secrets Act violated'
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb issued a response to the press conference later in the day, questioning what merits the government's involvement in the matter.
"In what capacity is the government responding to a claim against the Daily Mail for defamation?" she inquired, adding, "How is Shahzad Akbar's press conference justified for a claim made by Shehbaz Sharif against Daily Mail?"
She continued to ask why — when the claim had been made against Daily Mail — was the government reacting so sharply.
"The government is all shook up because it is them who have had this false news published," she alleged.
She claimed that the move was a violation of the Official Secrets Act as access to the under-trial prisoners and sensitive documents had been provided.
"I had said this since day one and maintain this even today that Imran Khan sahib, through Shahzad Akbar, had this false news published in the British newspaper," she said, adding that "the government's sharp reaction is evidence of the fact".
She also said that the government should present proof, if they have any, in the court, rather than hold press conferences .
Alleged embezzlement in earthquake aid
The story published earlier this month claimed that Sharif, the former chief minister of Punjab, had embezzled funds provided by UK's Department for International Development (DFID) for the rehabilitation of the 2005 earthquake.
It quoted Assets Recovery Unit Chief Shahzad Akbar and a few other individuals — none of whom were in an official position.
The story was quickly refuted by the PML-N and the party had insisted that it was published "on the behest of [Prime Minister] Imran Khan".
It was also rejected by DFID, that said the body's "robust systems protected UK taxpayers from fraud".