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Imran Khan’s government to refer 4 new cases against Sharifs to NAB

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Imran Khan

Islamabad | Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government has decided to send four new cases to Pakistan’s top anti-graft agency to investigate into the misuse of authority by the Sharif family in the previous government, according to a media report.

Khan’s Adviser Shehzad Akbar and Special Assistant Iftikhar Durrani detailed the alleged misuse of government resources by former Punjab chief minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chief Shehbaz Sharif and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz at a press conference here, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.

The officials said that the Assets Recovery Unit was referring a case of the new London property belonging to the Sharif family to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for investigation, adding that the government had requested Britain for the ownership documents of the property.

Durrani said that the cases related to the misuse of funds in erecting a security fence around the Sharif family’s Raiwind Palace, plunder of funds allocated for entertainment and gifts, unauthorised use of the prime minister’s aircraft by Shehbaz and Maryam.

In the first case, he said that Rs 60 crore was spent to secure the “Raiwind Mahal”, which was tantamount to misusing the authority and funds. Another case involves Maryam’s use of the prime minister’s official plane. Her trips cost the national exchequer Rs 3 crore. Another case refers to former Shehbaz’s use of the plane.

Akbar said the record of the Prime Minister House and Punjab Chief Minister House would be handed over to NAB. He accused the previous rulers of using the taxpayers’ money lavishly and said that the CM House’s budget was enhanced manifold during 2013-18 period with mala fide intentions. He said that the Assets Recovery Unit was in process of referring another case to NAB about Sharif’s family’s new property traced in London.

Akbar said it was a fit case of assets beyond known sources of income as the former prime minister had not disclosed the new property in London in any declaration submitted with the Election Commission or wealth statements. He said it was the domain of NAB to carry out investigation into having assets beyond known sources of income while the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) would look into tax-related matters. He said they had requested Britain for fresh ownership documents of the property.

Durrani said the information shared by China about the Multan Metro Bus Project would be shared with the media soon. “Corrupt practices of former rulers are surfacing one after the other though they were denying to possess any land at home or abroad. Even they had distanced themselves from the contents of Qatari letters,” he said.

Sharif, 68, was disqualified by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case in July, 2017. In July, 2018 Sharif, his daughter Maryam and his son-in-law retired captain Mohammad Safdar were sentenced to 11 years, eight years and one year respectively in prison in the Avenfield properties case related to their purchase of four luxury flats in London through corrupt practices. His sentence was, however, suspended. The three-time former prime minister and his family have denied any wrongdoing.

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Blow to Sirisena as Lankan Parliament adopts confidence motion on ousted PM Wickremesinghe

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Colombo| Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe emphatically proved his majority in Parliament on Wednesday, weeks after being sacked by President Maithripala Sirisena in a controversial move that plunged the island nation into a political turmoil.

As many as 117 out of 225 lawmakers in Parliament voted to pass a confidence motion in his leadership. The motion’s approval could be seen as a blow to President Sirisena who has steadfastly refused to reappoint 69-year-old Wickremesinghe due to his personal dislike of the ousted prime minister.

Sri Lanka is going through a major political crisis since October 26 when President Maithripala Sirisena, in a controversial move, removed Wickremesinghe and installed ex-strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. Rajapaksa has so far failed to prove his majority in Parliament.

The main Tamil minority party TNA voted in favour of the confidence motion. However, the Marxist JVP, which has protested Sirisena’s extra constitutional action, abstained from voting.

If the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)’s six lawmakers had voted in his favour, Wickremesinghe would have commanded an unassailable majority in the House despite the president’s refusal to reinstate him.

Sirisena’s United People’s Freedom Alliance continued its boycott of Parliament when Sajith Premadasa, Wickremesinghe’s deputy, moved the motion in the morning. Premadasa urged Sirisena to end the October 26 unconstitutional action and reinstate Wickremesinghe to take the country back to the pre-October 26 position.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya later adjourned the Parliament session until December 18. Legislators supporting Sirsena and Rajapaksa have been boycotting Parliament since November 17 when there were violent scenes of fighting, breaking up of furniture and throwing chilli powder. Two key court orders on the legality of Sirisena’s action await delivery. The one on Parliament’s sacking is expected this week.

Sirisena, after sacking Wickremesinghe on October 26, dissolved Parliament and called for a snap election on January 5. However, the Supreme Court overturned his decision. Sirisena said that he has always taken decisions in the best interest of the country and the people. United National Party (UNP) leader Wickremesinghe last week urged the President not to “be like Hitler and some of the other dictators who used the referendum”.

Sirisena has said that Wickremesinghe is a stubborn, headstrong person who was following far right wing neo-liberal policies. Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa both claim to be the prime ministers with the former claiming that his dismissal is invalid because he still holds a majority in the 225-member Parliament.

Prior to the crisis, Wickramasinghe’s UNP had the backing of 106 parliamentarians while Rajapaksa and Sirisena combine had 95 seats. The President has said that due to sharp personal differences with Wickremesinghe, he would not reappoint him as the Prime Minister.

However, Wickremesinghe’s UNP claims that Sirisena will be left with no choice as he would be the man who will command the confidence in the House.

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Chinese welcome Huawei executive’s release in Canada

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Beijing | China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday denied knowledge of the detention of a former Canadian diplomat, as Chinese citizens rejoiced over a Canadian court’s decision to release a top Huawei Technologies executive on bail.

The release of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, prompted an outpouring of support on social media for her and her company, which is based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Zeng Yuan, a university student in Beijing, was among many who believe the detention of former diplomat Michael Kovrig was related to Meng’s case. “It is a kind of declaration to the Canadian government,” the finance student told The Associated Press. “This makes sense. China cannot sit and await its fate, and let them make ambiguous accusations against Chinese citizens.”

Meng was detained Dec 1 at the request of the US, which accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of US sanctions.

After three days of hearings, a British Columbia justice granted bail Tuesday of 10 million Canadian dollars (USD 7.5 million) to Meng, but required her to wear an ankle bracelet, surrender her passports, stay in Vancouver and its suburbs and confine herself to one of her two Vancouver homes from 11 pm to 6 am.

While declining to confirm Kovrig’s detention, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the International Crisis Group, where Kovrig is a Hong-Kong-based analyst, was not registered in China and its activities in the country were illegal.

“I do not have information to provide you here,” he said. “If there is such a thing, please do not worry, it is assured that China’s relevant departments will definitely handle it according to law.” Because Kovrig’s organization is not registered as a non-governmental organization in China, “Once its staff becomes engaged in activities in China, it has already violated the law,” Lu said.

He repeated China’s demand for the immediate release of Meng, whose father founded Huawei, a leading telecommunications equipment maker that has strong connections to the Chinese government and military. Meng’s case has set off a diplomatic furor among the three countries and complicated high-stakes U.S.-China trade talks.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed Kovrig’s detention.

The International Crisis Group said he was taken into custody Monday night by the Beijing Bureau of Chinese State Security, which handles intelligence and counterintelligence matters in the Chinese capital, Rob Malley, president of the Brussels-based group, said he thinks Kovrig was in Beijing on personal matters at the time of his arrest and was definitely not there for any illegal purpose or for any reason that would undermine Chinese national security.

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British PM Theresa May to face leadership challenge over Brexit

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London | Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May will face a vote of no confidence on Wednesday over her controversial Brexit deal.  The challenge to May’s leadership was triggered after 48 Conservative Members of Parliament submitted letters demanding a vote to the 1922 Committee, which represents rank-and-file Conservative MPs in the House of Commons.

May, who has been prime minister since shortly after the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016, has faced criticism in her party for the Brexit plan she has negotiated.

Conservative MPs have triggered a vote of no confidence in 62-year-old May, plunging the Brexit process into chaos as Tory colleagues indicated they no longer had faith in the prime minister to deliver the deal, the Guardian reported.

A ballot will be held on Wednesday evening, Brady said, with votes counted “immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made as soon as possible”. In a press release, he said: “The threshold of 15 per cent of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative party has been exceeded.”

The prime minister will now need the backing of at least 158 Tory MPs to see off the Brexiters’ challenge, and her position would then be safe for one year. The House of Commons has 650 members. Because the Conservative Party is the largest party in the House of Commons, whoever is the leader of the party would be expected to be prime minister.

The vote could hardly have come at a worse time for May, who has been criss-crossing Europe to beg EU leaders for help passing her Brexit deal through the UK Parliament.

May was forced to postpone a vote on the deal on Monday when it became clear she was likely to be defeated in the House of Commons. Prime Minister May is determined to avoid a no-deal outcome: where the UK leaves the 28-member European Union without transitional arrangements in place. Businesses have warned it could lead to food shortages, grounded flights and a prolonged economic slump.

If a deal cannot be reached in time, the EU and the UK could agree to extend the March 29 deadline for Britain to leave the 28-member bloc.

The deadlock has led to growing calls for a second referendum on Brexit. Those calls were buoyed by a decision Monday by the European Court of Justice that the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 — its notification that it plans to leave the EU — should it so wish.

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