Imran’s bribery allegation stirs up a hornet’s nest

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan’s incendiary allegation that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to bribe him to not pursue the Panama Papers case drew a sharp reaction from the government on Wednesday.

A day earlier, speaking to party members in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mr Khan had alleged that PM Sharif had offered him Rs10 billion to back off from the case.

During a series of TV appearances on Wednesday, he went further, claiming that the proposal came from a close friend of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Despite calls from PPP and PML-N, PTI chief refuses to name middleman

Appearing in an ARY News show, he did not name the person that brought the “offer from the Sharif family”, but said it happened only two weeks ago, when the judgement in the Panama Papers case had been reserved, but not announced.

“He is very close to [Nawaz Sharif’s] brother,” he replied when asked about the man who brought the offer. “He came to see me about two weeks ago and told me about the offer. Let me tell you that the Sharif family had even made him a very good offer and promised to ‘entertain’ him if he could convince me,” the PTI chief claimed.

He said the offer reflected the desperation of the Sharif family, which felt threatened becuase of the Supreme Court verdict.

“Such offers are never made through direct contacts. For instance, Nawaz Sharif cannot call me directly and make an offer; it’s always conveyed through different contacts. The same channel was used in my case,” he said.

The PTI chief lauded the Supreme Court judges who came up with such a judgement, despite knowing the Sharif family’s history.

“They always want to buy people. They have a history of bribing people [to protect] their illegal businesses and vested interests,” he added.

“This Rs10 billion was just a starting point; if I had showed some flexibility, they could have offered me more than that,” he concluded.

Govt response

To refute the allegation, State Minister for Informa­tion Marriyum Aurangzeb held a press conference at the Press Information Depa­r­tment (PID) on Wednesday, where she criticised both Mr Khan and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), whose leader had also trained his guns on the ruling party a day earlier.

Accusing the PPP of having drifted away from its ideology, Ms Aurangzeb, remained critical of Mr Khan, describing him as being “naive about politics”.

“He is a juggler; he started with the slogan of election rigging, moved on to the phrase that an umpire is set to raise his finger, and has now resorted to criticising all state institutions, including the Election Commission and judges of the apex court,” she said.

After branding Mr Khan “a liar” for making the Rs10 billion claim, she said the government was not interested in getting him to quiet down.

“Whatever he says is indirectly beneficial for us; whenever he criticises us, he makes a mockery of himself,” the minister said, adding: “This lends credence to the more mature, sober and responsible PM Nawaz Sharif, who also heads the largest political party in the country.”

She claimed that the petitions filed by Senator Sirajul Haq, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed and Imran Khan had been rejected by the Supreme Court due to a lack of credibility, whereas the judgement had cleared PM Sharif.

“However, there is another thing and those are the observations by the judges. Mr Khan is taking the [dissenting notes] of two judges too seriously and ignoring the court’s collective order,” she said, adding that the PTI leader’s tendency to hurl warnings and criticism via social media against the judiciary was a dangerous trend.

“The PTI has not evolved as a party, the two mainstream political parties of old used to behave the same way in the 1990s, but we have come a long way,” she said, referring to the PPP and PML-N.

However, when Ms Aurangzeb was asked to comment on recent statements and anti-government rhetoric from the PPP, she stopped short of naming former president Asif Ali Zardari, saying the party seemed to have entered election mode a little early.

Speaking to a public gathering in Malakand on Tuesday, Mr Zardari had termed the PM “Zia’s prodigy” and blamed his government for most of the problems KP was facing.

“The party has drifted away from the thinking of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto,” the minister said, adding: “It is so strange that the PPP is organising sit-ins in Karachi against the government — it should at least hold them in Islamabad.”

She also acknowledged that the PPP was better with acknowledging and respecting political norms than the upstart PTI.

Reaction to Khan’s claim

Other political parties, such as the PPP, have also demanded that the PTI chief reveal who offered him money on behalf of PM Sharif, but the party seemed reluctant to disclose the middleman, who is said to be a common friend of Imran Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

When contacted, PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry refused to divulge the identity of the person who approached Mr Khan with the offer, saying: “Such allegations have already been levelled against Prime Minister Sharif in the past.”

“It was recounted by the late journalist Azhar Sohail in his book; Mian Sharif had offered Gen Asif Nawaz a BMW car and a diamond key-ring that cost more than the car,” he added.

The PTI spokesman said the prime minister had also been accused of getting monetary assistance from Osama bin Laden, founder of Al Qaeda, and the money was used to topple the government of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The PTI spokesperson said Mr Khan had already disclosed this in an informal chat with some friends at his nephew’s wedding recently, a video of which went viral some time ago.

“But at that time, it was not picked up by the electronic or print media,” he said.

Asked why Mr Khan was not disclosing the name of the person who offered him the money, the spokesperson said: “We will disclose the name of the person at an appropriate time.”

To respond to the government’s allegations, the PTI announced on that it would hold a press conference at the official PID premises today (Thursday). This would be PTI’s second presser held on the government’s stomping grounds.

Meanwhile, PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira termed it the “legal and moral responsibility of Imran Khan” to disclose the name of the person who tried to buy his loyalty.

Mr Kaira said this was the most appropriate time for the PTI to reveal the name of that person.

A similar demand was made in a press statement, issued by the PPP Central Secretariat.

But in the words of Ms Aurangzeb, who also called on Mr Khan to name the middleman: “I think Imran Khan is fixing his own price.”

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