Pakistan PM hits out at ‘slandering’ of his family over wealth

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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif looks out the window of his plane after attending a ceremony to inaugurate the M9 motorway between Karachi and Hyderabad

By Drazen Jorgic and Saad Sayeed

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday lashed out at what he called the “slandering” of his family in connection with an investigation of their wealth, and said unidentified people with agendas against him posed a danger to the country.

Sharif was speaking after being grilled by a powerful panel investigating him and his family in an inquiry ordered by the Supreme Court that has gripped Pakistan and become increasingly politicized.

“What is happening here is not about corruption allegations against me, it is about slandering the businesses and accounts of my family,” a defiant Sharif, clad in traditional shalwar kameez tunic and trousers, said as he read from a statement.

Sharif, 67, spent about three hours at the offices of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the capital, Islamabad, becoming the first Pakistani prime minister to be questioned by an investigative agency.

“No corruption charges have been proven against me in the past and, inshallah (God willing), it will not be so once again,” he said.

The Supreme Court agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family’s offshore wealth after the opposition threatened protests after the leaking of the “Panama Papers”.

Documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm appeared to show that Sharif’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy luxury properties in London.

The Supreme Court ruled in April there was insufficient evidence to remove Sharif from office over corruption allegations leveled by the opposition, but it ordered further investigations.

Sharif, whose father was a prominent industrialist, has said his family wealth was acquired legally.

A three-time prime minister, Sharif was ousted twice in the 1990s, including in a 1999 military coup. He later lived in exile, mostly in Saudi Arabia.

He swept back to power in an election in 2013 but rumors of tension between his government and the powerful military, which oversees the foreign relations and national security, occasionally circulate.

‘SUSPICIOUS’

Sharif suggested that unidentified enemies acting behind the scenes should be stopped from trying to subvert the wishes of the electorate that handed his party victory in a 2013 general election.

“If the factories that produce agendas and silence the decisions of the people are not closed, then not only the law and constitution, but the safety of this country will also be jeopardized,” he said.

Pakistan has been plagued by pervasive corruption for decades, with politicians often accusing rivals of underhand dealings.

The Supreme Court has given the panel two months to investigate the family and then deliver its findings.

The six-man panel, made up of members of civilian investigative agencies and military intelligence officers, are examining three generations of Sharif family wealth.

The team has accused government departments of tampering with old records, but Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday rejected such allegations, adding that the team’s claims meant the process was becoming “suspicious”, media reported.

Sharif’s camp has sought to remove two members of the investigation team and his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party voiced outrage over a leaked photograph taken from security camera footage showing Sharif’s son, Hussain, appearing before the panel.

Opinion polls suggest Sharif’s party is likely to win the next election, due next year.

A senior PML-N official told Reuters the party was unlikely to call an early election if Sharif was ousted by a Supreme Court ruling, and would select a new prime minister to take over until the general election.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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