LONDON: Former Punjab chief minister and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif has stated that a “defamatory article” in the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online caused “serious harm” to his “personal and professional reputation” and that he was left with no option but to seek justice from the court, according to the claim form submitted at the London High Court.
According to court papers obtained by Geo.tv and The News, Shehbaz Sharif has paid £10,528 in court fees but has not specified how much he sought in legal damages and fees from the defendant, the Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL).
Shehbaz’s claim against the ANL at the High Court of Justice now awaits a listing for a trial.
Geo.tv and The News has obtained a copy of the particulars of the January 29 claim, showing that the PML-N leader has claimed damages, including aggravated damages, for libel in various parts of the article published on July 14, 2019, on pages 34 to 35 and 37 of the Mail on Sunday newspapers entitled ‘He’s the top Pakistani politician who has been feted in No10, met THREE aid ministers and hosted Boris. Now, amid claims that tens of millions were embezelled and laundered in Britain, David Rose asks.. did the family of UK’s foreign aid poster boy steal taxpayers’ cash meant for earthquake victims?’.
Shehbaz’s lawyer has stated in the court papers that British journalist Rose’s article “conveyed the defamatory imputation that the Claimant is guilty, or that there are very strong grounds to suspect that the Claimant is guilty, of the embezzlement of hundreds of millions of pounds of public money while Chief Minister of the Punjab, all or most of the stolen money being British public money in the form of DFID aid to the province, and using Britain to launder the stolen money, thereby cruelly depriving vulnerable victims of poverty and natural disasters, including in particular the victims of the devastating 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, of the vital aid and healthcare that the DFID money was intended to provide”.
Shehbaz’s claim also made a tweet by Shahid Mursaleen — PAT leader Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s London-based aide, as well as one of Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari, a part of his claim to show he was defamed in the UK jurisdiction by British nationals.
Bukhari’s tweet says: “Shameful to say the least, for years this #SharifMafia has stolen without a slightest hint of embarrassment.
“Techniques & networks they established to launder money & evade tax while holding public offices are mind-boggling, yet they have audacity to ask ’mujey kyu nikala’ [Why was I kicked out]?,” it adds.
Mursaleen’s tweet says: “A very detailed report of how Nawaz Sharif & Shabaz Sharif used black money operators in Pakistan & UK to run a network of money laundering including aid funded by @DFID_UK [Department for International Development] destined for the poor!
“True extent of Sharif family mafia is higher than Sicilian mafia.”
The PML-N president told the court that despite the extremely-serious allegations against the claimant, the defendant’s proposal to publish it failed to satisfy the most basic tenet of responsible journalism by making any reasonable attempt to obtain comment from him prior to publication.”
Neither the claimant himself, his office, his personal secretary Murad Khan or his officially designated director, Muhib Ali Phulpoto, were approached at all.
“Instead the Defendant’s efforts consisted of its journalist David Rose sending a text message on Friday 12 July 2019, just 2 days before publication, not to the Claimant, but to his son Suleman Sharif, indicating that he wished to speak with him about the proposed article.
“Mr Suleman Sharif told him that he was not in London and wished to meet in person to discuss the proposed article. Despite there being nothing urgent about the story whatsoever, Mr Rose said that there was no time and that the story would be published on Sunday in any event.”
Shehbaz stated that the newspaper did not give him any chance to make it clear that the allegations were “completely untrue, and demonstrated various significant matters indicating their falsity, such as that the 2005 earthquake did not affect Punjab; that at the time it took place the Claimant was not Chief Minister of Punjab but was living in England; and that the funds paid by DFID in respect of the earthquake were under the control of the Federal Government (via the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority) and not the provincial government of Punjab in any event; and that on first learning of the suspected theft by Ikram Naveed from ERRA, he instigated an investigation and, following the investigation being taken over by the Federal Government of Pakistan, ensured their prosecution of Naveed; and oversaw the recovery of stolen money, which included money lost in a commercial transaction in which his son in-law, Ali Imran, was innocently involved”.
The claim submitted by Carter Ruck says that the ANL publications did not accommodate the version given by Suleman that “the allegations were the product of the political witch hunt being carried out by Imran Khan and his government against his opponents”.
Shehbaz claimed that Rose was being “fed information and provided special access to prisons and government documents by the government. The campaign being waged by this government against its opponents and critics has been the subject of international reporting, including in the New York Times. In the circumstances it was plain that Mr Rose’s sources should not simply be taken at face value and that Mr Suleman Sharif’s response raised issues that required proper consideration and investigation before publication.
“Instead the Defendant ignored these issues and published the allegations against the Claimant in the Articles in any event.
“The Defendant even went so far as to devote more space to quotes from Mr Khan’s government dismissing Mr Suleman Sharif’s comments than to those comments themselves, thereby reinforcing the incorrect and unfair impression that this was not a proper response to the allegations.”
The claim’s particulars state that Rose had “made statements to third parties and on Twitter to the effect that the words complained of are and will be proven true”.
Shehbaz has asked the court to issue an injunction restraining the ANL from further publishing; award damages, including aggravated damages, for libel; and an order that the Defendant publish a summary of the Court’s judgment.
Rose, the Daily Mail journalist, has previously maintained that he stood by all allegations made in the article. When contacted on Monday, he said he would not comment on the issue as the matter was in the court.