Money Laundering: Sharif family laundered quake victims’ aid money to UK, alleges report

LAHORE: A new investigative report by the Daily Mail has allegedly revealed that Opposition Leader in the National Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif and his family were involved in money laundering in Britain.

According to the investigative report, Britain’s Department for International Development (DIFD) had given Sharif and his government taxpayers’ cash. Shehbaz and his family were embezzling tens of millions of pounds of public money and laundering it to Britain, claimed the report.

The high-level probe was ordered by Prime Minister Imran Khan after he came into power last year.

“After winning election on a pledge to combat corruption, Imran Khan set up a special team to deal with it, the Asset Recovery Unit, headed by a UK-educated barrister. They have examined a series of suspicious transactions running to many millions and shown that Shehbaz’s family’s assets grew enormously during the years he was in power,” the report stated.

The report further revealed, the Sharif family was worth just £150,000 in 2003, but by 2018 their total assets had grown to about £200 million. “Among other properties, Shehbaz owns a 53,000 sq ft palace in Lahore, which has its own large security force,” said the report.

DFID said it was ‘well aware’ about Pakistan being ‘corrupt environment’. However, since 2014, DFID gave more aid to Pakistan than any other country – up to £463 million a year.

According to the report, the family’s legitimate income sources could not account for their riches.

The money, the report said, was channelled from abroad – via several elaborate money-laundering schemes, in which Britain played a central role.

The report also claimed laundered payments were made to Shehbaz’s children, his wife and his son-in-law Ali Imran. But it added Shehbaz “was the principal beneficiary of this money-laundering enterprise, by way of spending, acquisition of properties and their expansion into palatial houses where he lived.”

The Mail on Sunday further revealed that according to the documents in its possession, Shehbaz’s son-in-law received about £1million from a fund established to rebuild the lives of earthquake victims – to which DFID gave £54 million from UK taxpayers.

“Investigators have launched inquiries into alleged thefts from DFID-funded schemes to give poor women cash to lift them out of poverty and to provide healthcare for rural families,” the report said.

Stolen millions were laundered in Birmingham and then allegedly transferred to Shehbaz’s family accounts by UK branches of banks including Barclays and HSBC, it added.

Self-confessed Birmingham money-launderer Aftab Mehmood told the Mail on Sunday that he had his accounts audited every three months by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – who failed to notice anything was amiss, the report said.

The publication stated that Britain’s National Crime Agency was working closely with Pakistani investigators and Home Secretary Sajid Javid was discussing the possible extradition of members of Shehbaz’s family who have taken refuge in London.

The DFID has been running a £1.75 million project designed to ‘reduce the exposure to fraud and corruption’ of UK aid. Despite it being already vigilant, DFID admitted that, to date, it has referred just one individual to the Pakistani authorities for trying to steal UK funds.

Former International Development Secretary Priti Patel has demanded an enquiry be done into the corruption. Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Patel said, ‘As someone who has served as Secretary of State at DFID, I find it shocking that British funds may have been abused, especially given the background of poverty in Pakistan which aid is meant to alleviate.”

Pakistan’s Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Authority, set up after the devastating quake of 2005, received £54 million from DFID between then and 2012, both for immediate relief and long-term schemes to rebuild victims’ lives.

Ikram Naveed, the former finance director of ERRA, pleaded guilty and confessed last November to embezzling about £1.5 million from ERRA during the period DFID was funding it, of which he passed on almost £1 million to Ali Imran, Shahbaz’s son-in-law who is married to his daughter Rabia.

Shehbaz’s son Suleman has denied the allegations against him and his family and said they were the product of a ‘political witch-hunt’ ordered by PM Imran.

“No allegation has been proven. There is no evidence of kickbacks,” he said.