ISLAMABAD: Amid the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s drive aimed at toppling the government, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday took full advantage to counter the opposition using a new scandal that surfaced following revelations by UK-based assets recovery firm Broadsheet LLC and said the company had put renewed spotlight on the Panama leaks corruption of former premier Nawaz Sharif.

The Broadsheet saga has not only put the opposition in hot water but the government also came under severe criticism by the opposition with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb saying in a statement that “Imran Khan in his desperation to get an NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) for his rule has given the nation’s $25 million to a company which had defrauded Pakistan during Pervez Musharraf’s era”.

Prime Minister Khan started the day with some of his tweets regarding Nawaz Sharif’s corruption allegedly exposed by Broadsheet and later in a function at the National High Authority (NHA) headquarters he again criticised the former premier and the opposition.

In the evening, the prime minister met his spokespersons and directed them to vigorously expose corruption and money laundering of the opposition leaders unearthed by Broadsheet in the media and asked the Sharif family why it was not suing Broadsheet “if the firm is telling lies”.

PML-N says Imran paid $25m of nation’s money to UK firm which defrauded Pakistan during Musharraf era

Meanwhile, Broadsheet LLC’s owner Kaveh Maussavi said in an interview with Samaa TV on Wednesday that he had shared with PM’s adviser Shahzad Akbar information about $1 billion money laundering by an influential person in Pakistan.

In his tweets, the prime minister said: “Broadsheet has once again exposed the massive scale of our ruling elites’ corruption and money laundering.” He said the same people had earlier been exposed by the Panama Papers.

“These elites cannot hide behind the ‘victimisation’ card on these international revelations,” he added. The prime minister said Broadsheet’s revelations had repeatedly exposed what he had been saying in his “24-year fight against corruption which was the biggest threat to the country’s progress”.

“These elites come to power and plunder the country. They do money laundering to stash their ill-gotten gains abroad, safe from domestic prosecution. Then they use their political clout to get NROs. That is how they kept their plundered wealth safe,” he said, adding that the nation suffered as a consequence.

“Not only is the nation’s wealth stolen by the elites, taxpayer money, paid for recovering this wealth, is wasted because of NROs. These revelations [are the] tip of the iceberg. We want complete transparency from Broadsheet on our elites’ money laundering and on who stopped investigations,” he tweeted.

In his address at the NHA headquarters, the prime minister said that according to the Broadsheet revelations, a Pakistani political figure had transferred $1bn from Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom.

According to a spokesperson, the prime minister said Broadsheet’s investigations were stopped in 2002 following Nawaz Sharif’s departure to Saudi Arabia during former dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf’s era.

A day earlier, the prime minister had formed an inter-ministerial committee after Kaveh Moussavi said Broadsheet was influenced by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and others and that it had evidence of money laundering by some other Pakistanis. Mr Maussavi said in the interview that Anjum Dar, who claimed to be a relative of Nawaz Sharif, met him in London and offered $25m as bribe to stop investigations against the Sharifs.

Another spokesman quoted the prime minister as saying: “Both Nawaz Sharif and Broadsheet owner are in London these days and why Sharifs are not taking him to the court of law.”

The prime minister said when after an ‘under-carpet agreement’ Nawaz Sharif went Saudi Arabian in 2002, the Musharraf government had lost interest in accountability and the agreement made with Broadsheet had been cancelled.

Mr Khan said the firm was investigating 200 mega corruption and money laundering cases involving top Pakistani politicians and others.

The Broadsheet owner said in the interview that he had met PM’s adviser Shahzad Akbar in 2018 and despite cancellation of agreement with the firm, he shared some important information (as a goodwill gesture) with the latter about money laundering by influential Pakistanis.

Prime Minister Khan said when leaders indulged in corruption it made the whole system corrupt. “On the one hand, our country is facing the burden of huge debt and, on the other, political leaders own billions of dollars’ properties and assets abroad,” he added.

Mr Khan also mentioned the huge expenses made through the public kitty by the previous rulers during their visits abroad and their “aristocratic boarding and lodging” at luxury hotels in contrast to the simplicity adopted by the Western leaders.

He stressed the need for implementation of e-governance in all federal ministries and divisions, including the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), within the next six months and said digitisation was a key to check corruption and ensure transparency in the system.

“Unfortunately, the corrupt elements and mafia being beneficiaries of the status quo and having vested interests do not want change and digitisation which would eliminate the room for corruption,” he added.

The prime minister said that since bribery had roots and acceptability in the system, e-governance and digitisation were vital for defeating it. He said that digitisation of the country’s institutions, including the NHA and FBR, besides ensuring transparency, would also help generate more revenues which would be spent on human development, education, health and socio-economic uplift of the masses, especially the poor.

In her statement, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said Imran Khan did not worry about the precarious state of people under his rule. “He does not worry about the Rs400 billion corrupted in sugar scandal, Rs200bn in flour corruption, Rs500bn in public medicine and Rs122bn in LNG procurement; he only thinks about politically victimising the opposition to leverage an NRO for himself,” she said, adding that for this very purpose he had paid $25m of the nation’s money to Broadsheet without any direct legal contract with the government.

She said former dictator Gen Musharraf, in his obsession to target his rivals, had hired Broadsheet for Rs6 billion and gave a list of those he wanted to persecute, but later asked the firm to exclude those who had joined him in his dictatorial rule.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said NAB was already pursuing cases refreshed by the Broadsheet’s owner and most of them were being tried in courts. “Now let the courts decide these cases and avoid giving them hype in the media,” he added.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2021

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