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Family Of Pakistan's Sharif Says Offshore Wealth Holdings Not Illegal

Hassan Sharif, the son of Nawaz Sharif, speaks in London.
Hassan Sharif, the son of Nawaz Sharif, speaks in London.

Pakistan has denied any wrongdoing by the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after it was linked to offshore wealth holdings in the massive "Panama Papers" scandal.

Among those named in the leaked documents are three of Sharif's four children: daughter Maryam, who has been named as a possible political successor to Sharif, and sons Hasan and Hussain. The documents show they owned London real estate through offshore companies administered by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Some 11.5 million records from that law firm were leaked over the weekend by investigative journalists in one of the biggest such leaks in history, showing how some of the world's most powerful people have secreted their money offshore.

The allegations are particularly sensitive in Pakistan, where millions live in poverty and the rich pay very little in taxes.

As prime minister, Sharif has invited outside investors to put their money in Pakistan. The revelations could raise uncomfortable questions about why his family chose to invest their wealth abroad.

"Nawaz Sharif does not own any company, but having companies in the name of his children also raises questions," Umar Cheema of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan told AFP.

The Pakistani journalism center has scoured the leaked documents looking for mentions of Pakistani citizens. It is a partner of the Investigative Consortium of Independent Journalists (ICIJ), which spent months poring over the documents before releasing them online on April 3.

"There are more than 200 Pakistanis which our report has identified, and they include lawyers, lawmakers, and some people from the judiciary," Cheema said.

Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan called for action against Sharif.

"Our stance vindicated again as Sharif's wealth stashed abroad exposed," he tweeted, adding the country's accountability watchdog, tax authorities, and election commission all should investigate the matter.

But Sharif's son Hussain told Geo, the country's largest private broadcaster, that his family had done "nothing wrong."

"Those apartments are ours and those offshore companies are also ours," he said. "There is nothing wrong with it and I have never concealed them, nor do I need to do that. It is according to British law and laws of other countries that it is a legal way to avoid unnecessary tax via offshore companies."

Hussain said he left Pakistan in 1992 and therefore is not a resident. Pakistani tax law "says that if you are not staying in Pakistan for more than 138 days, then you are not required to declare your assets," he said.

When asked about Khan's call for an investigation by the National Accountability Bureau, he said, "we voluntarily present ourselves before it or any other judicial and investigative institution in Pakistan."

A spokesman for the Sharif family said late on April 4 that the "Panama leaks and ICIJ have made no allegations of wrongdoing against the Sharif family.... None of the corporations mentioned are owned or run by Mr Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of Pakistan."

The spokesman said Maryam Nawaz "is merely a trustee of one of the corporations owned by Mr Hussain Nawaz, which would only entitle her to distribute the assets to Mr Hussain Nawaz's family if required."

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, and Geo