Pursuit of Sharif’s alleged $1 bn ended with disputes over ‘demands’

Murtaza Ali Shah
Umar Cheema
A file photo of PM Imran Khan.
  • Moussavi claims $1b transferred from Saudi to a Singapore bank 
  • Broadsheet LLC says a Pakistani official asked his 'cut' 
  • PM Imran Khan thinks NAB is 'useless'

LONDON/ISLAMABAD: A proposed deal between Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and asset recovery firm Broadsheet has fallen through over the issue of “cuts” allegedly being demanded by a Pakistani official, The News has learnt.

According to a document containing text message exchanges and meeting details available with The News, the government was attempting to engage Broadsheet to recover $1 billion allegedly parked in a Singapore bank account by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The deal, however, collapsed when Broadsheet resisted demands of ‘cuts’ by Pakistani officials.

The document, titled Confidential Settlement Communication, was prepared by Crowell & Moring, a law firm engaged by Broadsheet, and Allen & Overy, a law firm representing Pakistan.

According to the document, Broadsheet owner Kaveh Moussavi was approached through one Sayed Zafar Ali, QC, in summer of 2019. At a meeting held in Oxford in July 2019, Ali told Moussavi he was acting on the instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The document provides details of several meetings held in London and Islamabad. All sides involved – Kaveh Moussavi, Prime Minister’s Adviser Shahzad Akbar and Ali - have confirmed that discussions did indeed take place. The document claims that British Pakistani Ali met Prime Minister Imran Khan, then finance minister Asad Umer, Shahzad Akbar and some other senior officials. Ali also told Moussavi that his closest contact in the government was Asad Umer. He further went on to say, “From the meetings I have already had, I noticed that Khan trusts no one other than Asad.” Ali told Moussavi that he had represented Asad in the Supreme Court of Pakistan on contempt of court charges. In a series of text messages meant to bolster his personal credentials, Ali told Moussavi, “IK (who is Sufi) was impressed with me and thought it appropriate to note I was a Sayyid! That is the level I am dealing with!”

Shahzad Akbar has confirmed that he met Zafar Ali. The PM’s accountability adviser added that Ali had a proposal which was not accepted. “Many people approach the government with tall claims and big proposals. We are working on several cases through cooperation with other governments. We don’t need to hire anyone.”

Moussavi told The News that these meetings took place and added that he was no longer on talking terms with Ali. When approached by The News, Ali confirmed that some meetings were held in London in relation to Broadsheet but refused to divulge more details. When asked about the text messages he had allegedly sent to Moussavi, Ali said he was no longer on talking terms with him. However, Moussavi confirmed to The News that the text exchange between the two was genuine.

Also read: Broadsheet LLC writes to NAB counsel in London seeking millions more

In a follow-up meeting, Moussavi outlined details of how he could help in uncovering assets of the Sharif family and shared some information about the alleged transfer of $1billion into Nawaz Sharif’s account in Singapore from Saudi Arabia. When Ali reportedly met the prime minister and informed him about the $1 billion account, he texted Moussavi to share updates. “At my first meeting, IK said they can’t do this, no chance. He was referring to NAB,” Ali wrote. He added that Imran believed NAB was “useless” and could not do the work anticipated by the proposed cooperation agreement.

Around this time, some more people approached Broadsheet on behalf of Pakistan to continue the negotiations. However, Moussavi insisted that all discussions should continue through a London-based attorney such as Ali, and thus kept him in the loop.

Moussavi also believed that negotiations should be handled by lawyers to ensure transparency and lawful conduct as “several officials later came forward to take over the discussions and change their character from transparency and cooperation to unlawful kickbacks and solicitations of bribes.”

In the following months, Ali met Asad Umar, then attorney general Anwar Mansoor, Shehzad Akbar and some other officials.

As negotiations with government officials continued, Broadsheet was asked to assist with two unrelated arbitrations in which Pakistan had lost substantial awards in corruption-related disputes. Those disputes were the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) awards against Pakistan won by Karkey Karadeniz Elektril and Reko Diq. Moussavi politely suggested that they first resolve Broadsheet matters before discussing any other unrelated issues.

Moussavi’s efforts through Ali were abandoned after the latter told him that people in Pakistan wanted to “know who Moussavi is” after dealing with him for years and “whether Broadsheet was being funded by Zardari and the Bhutto family.”

Moussavi said this was “nonsense” and added that he (Ali) was being “pushed aside by others in Pakistan eager to pursue the Sharif funds in Singapore for themselves.”

A spokesman of the Sharif family said that some people have been on a wild goose chase to trace their assets for decades but had found nothing as there were no illegally hidden wealth. Moussavi was then approached by another powerful official, who is also named in the document but it has been withheld to protect source.

Related: Broadsheet again exposed Pakistan ruling elite's corruption, says PM Imran Khan

At a meeting in London’s Café Rouge, this official advised Moussavi against wasting his time by pursuing the agreement through Ali “because others in the Pakistani government were now managing the case.” He categorically told Moussavi that he could get agreements signed and enforced “but only if his cut was guaranteed.”

Moussavi was also asked if he would be interested in helping Pakistan determine who in the government had “solicited bribes regarding the two unrelated ICSID arbitrations awards” and that any information related to this would provide Pakistan leverage to settle those arbitrations and Moussavi would be paid “substantial reward in the case.”

Moussavi confirmed that this senior government official met him on October 13, 2019 in London. He said he believed the official was genuine because he was carrying the same draft agreement that his lawyers had sent to the Government of Pakistan and only someone in the position of trust could have access to it.

The official also said to Moussavi, “People are wondering why you should make $25 billion out of the contract we are giving you.” When Moussavi asked him to clarify, the powerful official said he was referring to the PM’s statement that 100 billion dollars had been looted and the new proposed agreement envisaged a 25 percent commission on monies returned to Pakistan.

The document says, “After hearing him out, Moussavi stated clearly that the conversation he was pursuing was nothing less than a criminal conspiracy to bribe Pakistani officials and that neither he nor Broadsheet could even discuss the matter further under any circumstances, no matter how much money was being offered. The meeting ended abruptly and Moussavi has not spoken to [that official] since,” reads the document.

“Our understanding is that the new agreements were not signed because Moussavi refused to agree to the requests to ‘pay bribes’ and kickbacks,” reads the concluding paragraph of the document finalised late in 2019.

The deal failed to materialise and most people involved in those meetings are either no longer on talking terms or are openly speaking against each other. Moussavi said he reported the official through his lawyer to Pakistan for demanding bribes.

Originally published in The News