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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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Three MPs quit UK PM May’s party over Brexit

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London | Three MPs resigned from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s ruling Conservative party on Wednesday over what they described as a “shift to the right” on issues such as Brexit.

Anti-Brexiteers Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen wrote to May, informing her of their decision just hours before she heads to Brussels to seek concessions from the EU on a withdrawal agreement to get it passed through Parliament before the March 29 deadline.

May, who is now left with an even shakier majority in the House of Commons than before, said she was “saddened” by her colleagues’ move but insisted the government was on the right track as she made her appearance for the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament.

The three MPs, who will now join the breakaway Independent Group created by seven Opposition Labour MPs who had resigned earlier this week, said Brexit has “re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it” and there had been a “shift to the right”.

“Brexit has re-defined the Conservative party undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hardline ERG (European Research Group), which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy,” the MPs said in their letter, in reference to the hardline Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg led ERG group within the Tories.

“The country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part,” the letter adds.

Soubry is a former government minister as part of former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet, while Wollaston is Chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee. Allen was elected to Parliament in 2015 and has been an outspoken MP since.

“I am saddened by this decision these are people who have given dedicated service to our party over many years, and I thank them for it,” May said in her statement in response to the spate of resignations.

She admitted that the UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement in the party, adding that by implementing the decision of the British people, she is doing the “right thing” for the country.

The new splinter group calling itself the Independent Group was created on Monday by seven former Labour MPs Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey with an eighth Labour MP Joan Ryan joining the ranks on Tuesday.

It would now seem like the group is gaining some momentum as the members move away from their party benches to sit independently in the Commons.

The common factor uniting different sides of the political divide in the form of the new splinter group is the contours of Britain’s exit from the EU, with some demanding a second referendum to let the British public have another say and others unhappy with the deal on the table.

May will seek to revisit the withdrawal agreement during her meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has repeatedly ruled out the reopening of the draft agreement reached at the end of last year.

Unless both sides are able to strike an amicable deal on Britain’s exit that can pass through the UK Parliament in time for the March 29 deadline, the UK is set to crash out in a chaotic no-deal Brexit with no arrangements in place.

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Putin warns new missiles could target ‘decision-making centres’

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Moscow | President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia would have to deploy missiles targeting “decision-making centres” if Washington sends missiles to Europe.

The announcement comes after the US said it would withdraw from a key Cold War-era arms treaty over what it said were Russian violations, prompting a mirror move from Moscow.

“Russia does not intend to be the first to deploy such missiles in Europe,” Putin said during an annual state of the nation address.

“If (the US) develops and deploys them in Europe… this will dramatically exacerbate the international security situation, creating serious threats to Russia,” he said.

“I’m saying this clearly and openly, Russia will be forced to deploy weapons that can be used… against the decision-making centres that are behind the missiles systems which threaten us.”

He earlier accused Washington of using “far-fetched accusations” to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement.

Putin said he understood concerns about the bilateral deal, namely that other countries could continue to develop weapons that are banned for the US and Russia.

“The current state of affairs of course raises questions,” he told the audience of lawmakers and celebrities.

“Our American partners should have been honest… and not use far-fetched accusations against Russia to justify their unilateral withdrawal from the treaty,” he added.

The United States has repeatedly accused Russia of violating the INF by developing banned weapons and this month President Donald Trump said Washington was starting a process to withdraw from the treaty.

In a tit-for-tat move, Putin said Moscow was also leaving the treaty and beginning work on new types of weapons that would breach the agreement.

Many analysts say abandoning the treaty effectively signalled the start of a new arms race.

The INF deal was signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals.

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China closes Tibet to foreigners for sensitive anniversaries

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Beijing | China is keeping foreign travellers out of Tibet during sensitive political anniversaries.

Travel agencies contacted on Wednesday said foreign tourists would not be allowed into the Himalayan region until April 1. It’s not clear when the ban started, although some monitoring groups said it started this month.

March 10 is the 60th anniversary of an abortive 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, while anti-government riots occurred March 14, 2008, in the regional capital Lhasa.

While the foreigner travel ban is an annual occurrence, the occasion of the 60th anniversary is drawing special attention from the authorities. Amid heavy security on the ground, Tibet is almost entirely closed to foreign journalists and diplomats and information about actual conditions there is hard to obtain.

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