Shehbaz files suit against UK paper, journalist Rose

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From Sardar Shahab

LONDON: PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday announced that he has filed a formal defamation suit against Mail on Sunday newspaper, Mail Online and journalist David Rose in the London High Court for the publication of a “gravely defamatory” story in 2019. 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. 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, that 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. Speaking at the press conference, Shehbaz 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.