Meet Shahbaz Sharif. He’s the leader of Pakistan’s main opposition party and, before losing power last year, spent ten years as chief minister of the country’s biggest province, Punjab – home to 110 million people
For years he was feted as a Third World poster boy by Britain’s Department for International Development, which poured more than £500 million of UK taxpayers’ money into his province in the form of aid.
Last year the head of DFID’s Pakistan office Joanna Rowley lauded his ‘dedication’, while her colleague Richard Montgomery gushed that under Shahbaz, Punjab was ‘reforming at a pace rarely seen’.
Shahbaz visited Downing Street when David Cameron was Prime Minister, has held talks with successive international development secretaries – Andrew Mitchell, Justine Greening and Penny Mordaunt – and hosted Boris Johnson when he was Foreign Secretary.
Last year he was guest of honour at a party to celebrate the Queen’s birthday at the British High Commission in Lahore, photographed toasting Her Majesty with mango juice.
Yet, say investigators, all the time that DFID was heaping him and his government with praise and taxpayers’ cash, Shahbaz and his family were embezzling tens of millions of pounds of public money and laundering it in Britain.
They are convinced that some of the allegedly stolen money came from DFID-funded aid projects.
Last night, Shahbaz’s son Suleman denied the allegations against him and his family, saying they were the product of a ‘political witch-hunt’ ordered by Pakistan’s new prime minister, the former cricketer Imran Khan. ‘No allegation has been proven. There is no evidence of kickbacks,’ he said.
According to the watchdog Transparency International, Pakistan comes just 117th in the world integrity index and ‘corruption is a major obstacle’ there. DFID admits it is ‘well aware’ that Pakistan is a ‘corrupt environment’. However, since 2014, DFID has given more aid to Pakistan than any other country – up to £463 million a year.