Asset recovery firm lays claim to Avenfield flats

Updated October 02, 2019

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The Avenfield properties are four flats in one of London’s most expensive districts, which belong to the Sharifs. Accountability Court judge Mohammad Bashir in 2018 handed ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income and one year for not cooperating with NAB. — AFP/File
The Avenfield properties are four flats in one of London’s most expensive districts, which belong to the Sharifs. Accountability Court judge Mohammad Bashir in 2018 handed ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income and one year for not cooperating with NAB. — AFP/File

THE Sharif family’s luxury property in Avenfield, Mayfair, has become the basis of a fresh claim being made by the asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC, a company that was registered in the Isle of Man in the Musharraf era which helped the then government and newly established National Accountability Bureau (NAB) track down foreign assets purchased through alleged ill-gotten wealth.

Stuart Newberger, the Washington-based senior lawyer with the international law firm that represents Broadsheet, told Dawn that he has filed a claim with the London High Court on behalf of the company to enforce the payment of the outstanding $22 million owed to the firm.

“I am left with no choice but to go back to the London High Court for the enforcement of the earlier judgement. We are laying a claim to the Sharifs’ Avenfield properties which a court in Pakistan has ruled should be confiscated by the government. We hope to get an order this week,” said Mr Newberger, a partner at Crowel and Moring, a firm which advises multinational corporations on regulatory, litigation, corporate and investigation matters.

A copy of the claim filed with the high court, which has been seen by Dawn, shows that the company has applied for permission to enforce the London court’s judgement that the company should be paid $22m by the government of Pakistan. Broadsheet has also asked for an interest of $4,758 per day to be applied.

Hired by NAB under Musharraf, company is seeking to enforce payment of $22m owed to it

In Dec 2018, former English court of appeal judge Sir Anthony Evans QC, as sole arbitrator, issued an order for payment of $22m to Broadsheet by the government of Pakistan. In July this year, the government appealed the arbitration, but was unsuccessful in its bid. The arbitrator found that Pakistan and NAB had wrongfully repudiated an asset recovery agreement with Broadsheet and ruled that the company is entitled to damages.

Owned by Iranian-born former Oxford University academic Kaveh Moussavi, Broadsheet is now under the supervision of a court-appointed liquidator who initially funded the arbitration and previously served a year-long prison sentence in England for contempt of court in unrelated proceedings.

Broadsheet claims that it was established to enter into an Asset Recovery Agreement dated June 20, 2000, and did so with the then president of Pakistan, through the NAB chairman, for the purposes of recovering funds and other assets fraudulently taken from the State and other institutions, including through corrupt practices, and held outside of Pakistan. Broadsheet maintains that it was created to be a company specialising in the recovery of assets and funds, and was therefore engaged to trace, locate and transfer such items back to the State.

Broadsheet was terminated in 2003 by NAB, but says that it learnt that the accountability body struck a deal with the Sharifs which allowed them to live in self-exile in Saudi Arabia, and filed a claim on the settlement.

The company’s services were sought by Gen Musharraf to hunt down overseas properties owned by the Sharifs and other government officials. Mr Newberger said that the Sharifs were the “top target” of the Broadsheet investigation. “On the basis of the public requests made by the now government [of Pakistan] to British authorities to hand over Avenfield to them, we are going to lay a claim to these assets.” He also warned that he would bring the government’s non-payment of court-mandated dues to “influence the International Monetary Fund when it evaluates Pakistan’s credit standing for loans”.

The Avenfield properties are four flats in one of London’s most expensive districts, which belong to the Sharifs. Accountability Court judge Mohammad Bashir in 2018 handed ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income and one year for not cooperating with NAB. Nawaz Sharif’s family was accused of owning flats worth about 8m pounds through illegal sources. The court also directed the authorities to confiscate the Mayfair properties.

The family, however, maintains that the ownership belongs to Mr Sharif’s sons Hassan and Hussain Nawaz. The Sharifs challenged the verdict in the Islamabad High Court and a two-member bench suspended their sentences until the final verdict in the appeal is announced. Nawaz Sharif is currently serving his sentence in the Al Azizia case at the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore.

In response to Broadsheet’s decision to lay claim to the Avenfield properties, Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan told Dawn: “The Avenfield properties at this time are under the name of the person who owns them. Till they are not in the possession of the government, the company [Broadsheet] cannot claim them.”

Mr Khan added that the government “will respond in due time” and said that the delay is because Broadsheet is claiming far more than the court-mandated $22m. Broadsheet is also demanding that the Pakistan government pay an additional $11m for arbitration costs — a sum Mr Khan said is not something that has been decreed.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government has on several occasions said that it will initiate proceedings with the British authorities to seize the Avenfield flats. Advisor to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar last year said that the UK Central Authority, which deals with requests for Mutual Legal Assistance, are awaiting more information after they were asked by Pakistan to enforce the judgement of the accountability court.

Hussain Nawaz termed Broadsheet’s fresh claim on Avenfield as “bizarre and unfounded” and said that no international court will rule on such a matter if they know that all legal remedies in the case have not been exhausted. He also said the properties are worth much less than $22m.

Mr Hussain also said Broadsheet was a “dubious” offshore company created in the Isle of Man at a time when the government could have hired any reputed investigating firm in the UK.

“They are welcome to take it [the matter] to court in the UK, as any high court judge will throw it out. There is no ‘judge Arshad Malik’ here. The truth will prevail.”

Published in Dawn, October 2nd , 2019