Pakistan PM's daughter in graft probe

Ms Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, talking to journalists in Islamabad on July 5 after appearing before an investigation team formed by the Supreme Court.
Ms Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, talking to journalists in Islamabad on July 5 after appearing before an investigation team formed by the Supreme Court.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Probe into family's London luxury flats may jeopardise her political ambitions

ISLAMABAD • A damning judicial report into the family wealth of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif threatens not just his premiership, but has also imperilled the political career of his daughter and heir apparent.

Ms Maryam Nawaz Sharif, 43, has in recent years gained greater influence within Mr Sharif's inner circle, and is credited with steering him to embrace more pro-women and liberal causes in a deeply conservative nation of 200 million people.

Her feisty social media persona and combative tweets in defence of her father have often pitted her against Mr Sharif's rivals.

Now those opponents sense an opportunity to scupper any plans to build a Sharif dynasty around her after a Supreme Court-appointed panel accused her of committing a criminal offence in a 254-page report leaked to the media this week.

"It nips her career in the bud," Ms Sherry Rehman, vice-president of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP), told Reuters. "It does kill any aspirations for the dynasty - through her at any rate."

The Joint Investigations Team set up by the court alleges that the Sharif family's wealth does not match their income, and accused Ms Maryam and her brothers of signing forged documents to obscure ownership of offshore companies used to buy posh London flats.

Ms Maryam, also known as Maryam Safdar, "rejected" the report and tweeted to her 3.5 million followers that "every contradiction will not only be contested but decimated" in the Supreme Court.

END OF POLITICAL CAREER?

It nips her career in the bud... It does kill any aspirations for the dynasty - through her at any rate.

MS SHERRY REHMAN, vice-president of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP), on accusations made against Ms Maryam.

Her 67-year-old father, serving a third stint as prime minister, faces widespread calls to resign but his allies say the report is biased and inaccurate.

Ms Maryam and her brothers were named last year in the Panama Papers leak as owners of offshore companies used to buy luxury flats in London, prompting opposition politician Imran Khan to threaten mass protests unless the Supreme Court investigated.

Mr Khan, a former cricket star who leads Pakistan's third party, has been one of her harshest critics and recently called her a "princess", tapping into opposition anger that she appears to wield power within the government without holding any office.

Ms Maryam's allies say the opposition targets her because she poses a threat: a telegenic young politician who will boost the Sharif "brand" and prolong the family's rule. Dynastic politics have a long tradition in Pakistan.

Mr Sharif's brother, Shehbaz, governs Punjab, the country's biggest province, and the opposition PPP is headed by Mr Bilawal Bhutto, whose slain mother, Benazir, and grandfather, Zulfikar, who was hanged, both served as prime ministers.

"She has a policy mind," said Dr Musadik Malik, Ms Maryam's friend and spokesman for Mr Sharif. "Wherever she finds the policy space (on women, youth, minority issues), she pushes the envelope."

Ms Maryam rose to prominence in politics when she helped manage her father's re-election campaign in 2013, courting the youth vote.

Though she does not hold an official position within the government, members of the ruling PML-N party say she was instrumental in implementing a health programme offering free medical care for the poor at government hospitals, a loan scheme for youths, and the upgrading of primary schools in Islamabad.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline 'Pakistan PM's daughter in graft probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe