Shehbaz Sharif moves London court against Daily Mail, reporter David Rose, flays Imran Govt for character assassination

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Nation special report

LONDON: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif has filed a case in the London High Court against London based newspaper Daily Mail and its reporter David Rose for publishing a reported what he termed the “fabricated and defamatory” against him on July 14 last year.

“It was a fabricated and defamatory story which published in the Daily Mail. It was a part of propaganda launched by [Prime Minister] Imran Niazi against the PML-N in the name of sham accountability,” he said while addressing a news conference along with his legal team in London on Thursday.

Refuting the allegation made in the Daily Mail report, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly said, “If there was a shred of evidence against him of siphoning off millions of ponds the unholy alliance of NAB and PM Imran would not have filed baseless references against him in Pakistan.”

On July 14, 2019 the story appeared in the said newspaper accusing former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif and his family of embezzling millions of pounds out of £500 million aid lent by the Department for International Development (DFID) for 2005 earthquake victims.

As soon as the report surfaced, the PML-N termed it a conspiracy against Shehbaz hatched by the PTI government. Soon after the report stated making headlines, the PM’s aide on accountability, Shahzad Akbar, had endorsed the Daily Mail story and challenged Shehbaz to file a lawsuit against him in the London court.

He claimed that the government had ‘undeniable evidence’ to establish that the assets accumulated by the PML-N president’s family were made through money laundering and illegal means.

Shehbaz Sharif said that had there been any concrete evidence against him, “Imran Khan would not have started the frivolous proceedings in Ashiana Housing Scheme against me, he would have filed a case on this matter. The Lahore High Court’s acceptance of my bail plea is proof that the Ashiana case does not hold any merit”.

Shehbaz in December last year left Pakistan to accompany his brother, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, to London for a medical visit after the latter was diagnosed with an immune system disorder. He has been on bail since February 2018. He is facing cases of corruption in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills projects.

“This article is politically motivated and has been written on Imran Niazi’s behest,” Shehbaz reiterated at the press conference. “He asked for this article to be written because no real proof exists in this matter. Had there been any proof, he would have filed a case on this matter in Pakistan.

“It is sad that Niazi does not realise that such actions are defaming Pakistan. He is not thinking of the country while going after me,” he emphasised.

The UK government-owned agency, DFID, had also refuted claims made by the British daily of aid money being embezzled and laundered by Shehbaz and his family.

The aid agency also said The Mail on Sunday “provides little substantial evidence to support its headline” and that Shehbaz “denies any wrongdoing”.

The press conference was held at the offices of British law firm Carter-Ruck by Alasdair Pepper and Antonia Foster, who are representing Shehbaz in his legal case.

Pepper confirmed that the defamation claim has been issued at the London High Court’s Queen’s Bench Division against defendants DMGT and David Rose, author of the story. The lawyer said that Carter-Ruck had decided to move the court after failing to get a substantive response from the newspaper in several months, despite repeated requests.

The story published in July 2019 claimed that Shehbaz, 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 victims. 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, which said the body’s “robust systems protected UK taxpayers from fraud”. At the time, Shehbaz had also sent a legal notice to Rose and the two publications against the “gravely defamatory” article.

In a press conference at the offices of British law firm Carter-Ruck in London, Shehbaz said that as his legal notice to The Mail on Sunday and online news site Mail Online and Rose was not fruitful and “a copy of the article is still available online”, he has decided to sue the news agency and the journalist.

Alasdair Pepper and Antonia Foster, Shehbaz’s legal counsel in the case, were also present at the press conference.

Pepper said that the defamation suit has been initiated and the London High Court is expected to take the matter up any time within this year.

He said that the article as well as the “social media campaign [against Shehbaz] launched by Rose was highly defamatory”.

A statement by the law firm said that Shehbaz, “as a leading politician and public figure in Pakistan”, intends to clear his name. “He seeks the withdrawal of the allegations and an unreserved and unambiguous apology from the Mail’s publisher,” said the statement.