Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar on Saturday claimed that the PML-N was declaring premature victory by "giving the perception that (party president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly) Shehbaz Sharif had won his defamation case" against British newspaper Daily Mail after just a "meaning hearing".
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Akbar accused PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb of "still running the ministry of misinformation and disinformation", saying he could not understand why "Maryam (Nawaz) and Shehbaz Sharif's families have so much anger against Daily Mail".
He also challenged Shehbaz to "file a defamation suit against me in London and I will present the evidence".
A day earlier, a lawyer representing Daily Mail in a defamation case filed by Shehbaz Sharif told a judge that the publication’s evidence against the politician is "pretty limited", but that it stands by the claims made in its article.
The preliminary hearing on Friday was related to the case filed against the publisher of Daily Mail for a story that alleged Shehbaz and his family had siphoned off UK’s aid money.
The paper alleged in a 2019 story that he misappropriated UK taxpayers' money, in particular government aid intended for the victims of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.
Justice Matthew Nicklin, who presided over the hearing, said Chase Level 1 was applied in Shehbaz Sharif’s case, which meant that the publisher would have to prove that he is guilty of the act he has been accused of in the article.
The preliminary hearing is not a ruling on the defamation claim. The trial in the coming months will determine if the story was in fact defamatory according to the law.
Following the hearing, PML-N's Aurangzeb had demanded that Shehbaz be released, saying the court's 'ruling' was "proof of Shehbaz Sharif's innocence and Imran Khan's false cases" against the former.
In a statement, Aurangzeb said that the "faces of those who sought to dirty Shehbaz Sharif had been further blackened", adding that "proof of Shehbaz's truth had come from the London court".
"The London court said that according to British law, Shehbaz's defamation was characterised as the highest level."
The PML-N spokesperson repeated the claims in a press conference on Saturday.
Hours after Aurangzeb's presser, Akbar told her to "stop lying", saying he wanted to inform the public about "what really happened" during the hearing.
Shehbaz had said he would file a case against Daily Mail, journalist David Rose, the PM's aide and Prime Minister Imran Khan but had "already lost 85 per cent" of his validity because he filed one case only against the newspaper and journalist, Akbar said in his presser.
The PM's aide explained that the hearing was a "meaning hearing", which means it was held to decide the meaning of the words complained of in the claim brought by Shehbaz.
"The judge said that when a common man reads the [newspaper] story, he comes to understand that Shehbaz and his family were involved in money laundering and corruption and it could be considered to be defamation if evidence was not provided to back the claim.
"[The case] will now go to trial. For example, Daily Mail will be asked what evidence it has to [use the term] money laundering," Akbar added.
Akbar said "misreporting" was done by the PML-N and some sections of the media to "give the perception that Shehbaz had won something".
"This was not accurate reporting," he stressed, saying that almost all reporters, "save one or two" had reported that it was a meaning hearing.
He also referred to David Rose's tweets in which the journalist said that the hearing was "not a victory for anyone and was strictly preliminary".
"It is NOT a final outcome," Rose had said.
Akbar alleged that everyone knew Shehbaz was "involved in money laundering", adding that the former Punjab chief minister was now looking to "get it stamped from the UK".
Referring to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) money laundering reference against Shehbaz, the PM's aide said Shehbaz had been indicted and his bail rejected by the Lahore High Court. Similarly, he said, Shehbaz's son, Hamza Shehbaz "also had to face defeat" in the Supreme Court in the same case.
Talking about Maryam's tweet in which she said that the "London court's decision shows that when the court is independent, Imran Khan and his supporters would have to face defeat", Akbar said it "seems Maryam was not satisfied with Shehbaz's dishonour and wanted the same for her father as well".
"Why do you force us to remind the nation of what happened?"
Akbar said the evidence that would be presented in the court would have "double of what the story did".
"The facts are very simple. Shehbaz Sharif and his family did money laundering of Rs7 billion in the name of Manzoor Papadwala. There is also a section of the reference that states that Shehbaz used this same money to build great palaces for his wife," he said while referring to the NAB reference.
"Three people have already done plea bargains and become approvers [in the case]."