Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif laughs during a press conference in Islamabad on April 7, 2022. — AFP


Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif laughs during a press conference in Islamabad on April 7, 2022. — AFP
  • British publication removes article from all platforms.
  • UK-based publication fails to prove allegations.
  • PM Shehbaz, since publication of report, denied wrongdoing.

LONDON: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has received a much-awaited apology and withdrawal of each and every allegation of corruption from publishers of the Mail newspapers over an article by reporter David Rose that had accused him and his son-in-law Imran Ali Yousaf of stealing British taxpayers’ money.

The British publication also removed the article — “Did the family of Pakistani politician who has become the poster boy for British overseas aid STEAL funds meant for earthquake victims, asks David Rose” — written by David Rose from all platforms of Mail publishers.

The United Kingdom-based publication has failed to prove the allegations levelled by its journalist David Rose in an article against Premier Shehbaz about the alleged misappropriation of public funds.

The clarification issued by Daily Mail. — Daily Mail
The clarification issued by Daily Mail. — Daily Mail

The Daily Mail took down its article on Thursday within minutes after informing the court that it had decided not to go for the trial and decided to settle the case with PM Shehbaz and Yousaf.

Not just that, Daily Mail has promised it will work with Google to remove every link that contained allegations of corruption against the incumbent prime minister, based on Daily Mail’s sensational but false article.

Credible sources inside the newspaper said that it was advised by its lawyers on several occasions that it had no chance of winning the defamation case against PM Shehbaz at the trial as the allegations of corruption were unfounded, baseless, and politically motivated.

The newspaper will never be able to bring any evidence to support its exaggerated claims of corruption and wrongdoing, the sources quoted the lawyers as saying.

The agreement between Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), PM Shehbaz, and Yousaf submitted before Justice Matthew Nicklin at the UK High Court of Justice’s Queen Bench Division informed the court that all parties have decided to withdraw their claims after it was agreed that ANL would apologise to the premier and his son-in-law.

The agreement informs the court the defamation dispute was brought to the court by PM Shehbaz after Mail on Sunday and Mail Online accused him of corruption on 14 July 2019.

The agreement refers to the trial of preliminary meaning on February 5, 2021, at the UK court which was clearly won by PM Shehbaz when Justice Nicklin found that the words used in the Mail article were of the highest level of defamation and that the newspaper must bring evidence to prove every allegation.

Justice Nicklin had found that that Mail article alleged that “Sharif was party to and the principal beneficiary of the money laundering of tens of millions of pounds which represented the proceeds of his embezzlement, whilst he was the Chief Minister of Punjab, of substantial sums of public money, including a not insubstantial sum of British public money that had been paid to the province in DFID grant aid and other corrupt payments received in the form of kickbacks or commission from government-run projects.”

The Daily Mail’s withdrawal of the article, removal of allegations, and apology to PM Shehbaz is an admission of withdrawal of everything in line with the findings of Justice Nicklin, as the judge found the ordinary meaning to be Chase Level-1 defamation category.

At the same meaning trial at high court, the Mail lawyers had told the judge that the paper didn’t accuse PM Shehbaz of corruption and also accepted that it didn’t have evidence of corruption.

However, Justice Nicklin had asked the Mail lawyers to prepare for the evidence and also stated that proceedings in the UK court will have no bearing on any outcome of PM Shehbaz’s cases in Pakistan.

According to the terms of the agreement with ANL, Premier Shehbaz has filed a consent order at the court, staying the claim against ANL and informing the court that he longer wanted to proceed in the case after achieving the desired results of apology, removal of article, and vindication.

The agreement added that “ANL will permanently remove the Article from the MailOnline within 3 days of the Effective Date”.

About the apology on DFID funds allegations, the paper has told the court that it will withdraw all allegations in “the clarifications and corrections column of an edition of the Mail on Sunday, either in the edition immediately following the Effective Date or on the following Sunday (subject to reasonable editorial discretion); and “to be accessible via a link in the clarifications and corrections column of the Mail Online for a period of 24 hours (and thereafter remain in the archive) within 48 hours of the removal of the Article or the Effective Date (whichever is later) subject to reasonable editorial discretion”.

The court has been informed that each Party will bear their own costs incurred in relation to the Dispute and the Claim.

The Mail Online, in its clarification statement, mentioned that their article concerning PM Shehbaz titled “Did the family of Pakistani politician who has become the poster boy for British overseas aid STEAL funds meant for earthquake victims” was published on July 14, 2019.

The report was based on an investigation by National Accountability Bureau into PM Shehbaz and suggested that the money under “investigation included a not insubstantial sum of British public money that had been paid to the Punjab province in DFID grant aid”, the statement said.

“We accept Mr Sharif has never been accused by the National Accountability Bureau of any wrongdoing in relation to British public money or DFID grant aid. We are pleased to make this clear and apologise to Mr Sharif for this error,” the clarification read.

A week after the story was published in 2019, PM Shehbaz announced he would take legal action against The Mail for publishing a “fabricated and misleading story”.

He had accused the paper of publishing the story “on the behest of [then-prime minister] Imran Khan and [premier’s aide] Shahzad Akbar” and said that he will initiate legal proceedings against the latter two as well.

The article, written by Rose and quoting investigators, Shahzad Akbar, Transparency International, and a “confidential investigation report”, claimed that the money “stolen” by the PML-N president, between the 2005 earthquake and 2012, also came from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)-funded aid projects.

“For years he was feted as a Third World poster boy by Britain’s Department for International Development, which poured more than £500 million of UK taxpayers’ money into his province in the form of aid,” said the report.

“Last year, the head of DFID’s Pakistan office Joanna Rowley lauded his ‘dedication’.”

The DFID in its rebuttal had said The Mail on Sunday provides little substantial evidence to support its headline: “Did the family of UK aid’s poster boy steal taxpayers’ cash meant for earthquake victims?”

“The UK taxpayer got exactly what it paid for and helped the vulnerable victims of a devastating earthquake. We are confident our robust systems protected UK taxpayers from fraud,” said DFID quoting its response to the question asked in the headline.

Talking about where and how the laundered funds were stolen, the article claimed one case has already come to court – “a guilty plea by Ikram Naveed, the former finance director of Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra), which received £54 million from DFID between then and 2012, both for immediate relief and long-term schemes to rebuild victims’ lives”.

According to the writer, The Mail was given “exclusive access” to some of the results of a high-level probe ordered by ex-prime minister Imran.

The paper had alleged that legal documents allege that Shehbaz’s son-in-law received about £1 million from a fund established to rebuild the lives of earthquake victims; stolen millions were laundered in Birmingham and then allegedly transferred to Shehbaz’s family’s accounts by UK branches of banks including Barclays and HSBC; Britain’s National Crime Agency is working closely with Pakistani investigators and Home Secretary Sajid Javid is discussing the possible extradition of members of Shehbaz’s family who have taken refuge in London.

The only named official in The Mail article was Assets Recovery Unit Chief Shahzad Akbar had said.

“Our investigations have already uncovered evidence of money-laundering on a vast scale, much of it conducted via the UK. We are working closely with the National Crime Agency and the Home Office. We are grateful for this assistance and we hope it will ensure that theft and money-laundering of this magnitude will never happen again.”

PM Shehbaz was first given a clan chit in September 2021 by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and now he has won a huge apology from the Associated Newspapers.


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