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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family and allies have rejected a damaging report by a judicial body investigating the Pakistani premier’s assets, dismissing as “trash” allegations that the Sharif family has accumulated wealth far above its earnings.

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), set up by the Supreme Court to investigate corruption claims that surfaced following the Panama Papers leak, spent two months probing the Sharif family’s wealth and gave its finding to the court on Monday.

The probe has spooked investors in Pakistan’s equity market, with the country’s benchmark index in retreat since June over fears Sharif’s removal would plunge Pakistan back into chaos after years of relative stability.

While the report was not made public immediately, leaked pages were circulated on social media and opposition leader Imran Khan demanded Sharif resign following the findings, which also levelled allegations against his daughter and sons.

“JIT report REJECTED. Every contradiction will not only be contested but decimated in SC,” tweeted Maryan Nawaz Sharif, the premier’s daughter, referring to Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

The report alleges Sharifs’ businesses alone are not enough to explain the family’s wealth, which includes flats in an upscale London borough.

It also recommended the National Accountancy Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption agency, file a case against Sharif, according to Dawn newspaper and other Pakistani media.

The inquiry has gripped Pakistanis and, after it was handed to the Supreme Court, the stock market plunged 3.1 percent early on Tuesday to trade at 44,800 points by 10.10 am (0510 GMT).

“The market has taken the suggestions for a NAB (investigation) and the overall JIT report as a negative,” said Saad Hashmey, research director at brokerage Topline Securities.

“We expect volatility to continue,” he said.

Asif Khawaja, Pakistan’s defence minister and one of Sharif’s closest aides, said the report was “full of flaws” and the ruling PML-N party would contest the JIT findings in the Supreme Court.

“Its trash,” Khawaja said.

The Supreme Court will now decide how to proceed with the report and whether to call for a trial. There were also calls for Sharif to be disqualified.

Sharif has always denied any wrongdoing over his family allegedly using offshore companies to buy luxury flats in a posh London neighbourhood, and said his family wealth was acquired legally.

In April, the Supreme Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to remove Sharif from office - by a split 2-3 verdict - on the back of the Panama Papers leaks, but it ordered further investigations.

The JIT team comprised members of civilian and powerful military bodies, including the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. However, the probe became politicised as Sharif’s backers and opponents sparred over the JIT’s work and the allegiance of its members.

Sharif’s allies have alleged there was a conspiracy against him, but opponents say the premier was trying to use such talk as a smokescreen to cover the serious allegations he faces.

Khan, the leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said Sharif “has now lost all moral authority” and must resign immediately.




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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Germany where G20 summit is underway. Today is the final day of the meeting of 20 most developed nations of the world.

On the first day, the G20 leaders pledged a joint crackdown on the global scourge of terrorism and to check its funding sources. In a 21-point joint declaration, the leaders said all terror safe havens must be eliminated in every part of the world.

To understand why this declaration assumes significance, it important to know what the G20 is and what it stands for.


The Group of Twenty (G20) is the central forum for international cooperation on financial and economic issues.

The G20 countries account for more than four-fifths of gross world product and three-quarters of global trade, and are home to almost two-thirds of the world's population. Its decisions are influential and help to bring about reform at national and multinational levels.


The G20 comprises 19 countries plus the EU. These countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (US).

International organisations also participate regularly in the G20 summits. These organisations are the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), the Financial Stability Board (FSB), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations (UN).

Furthermore, each Presidency can invite other countries, regional organisations and international organisations to the summit.


The meeting of G7 finance ministers and central bank governors was expanded to the G20 format for the first time in 1999.

This meeting was prompted by the turbulence on the international financial markets during the Asian crisis. In the face of the financial crisis in 2008, the G20 meeting was raised to the level of heads of state and government.


The G20 is not an international organisation, but rather what is known as an informal forum. This means it does not adopt decisions that have a direct legal impact. The G20 does not have an administrative council with a permanent secretariat or a permanent delegation of its members. This is why the Presidency, which rotates on an annual basis, plays a particularly important role.

In the dramatic early days of the financial crisis in 2008, it quickly became apparent that the necessary crisis coordination would only be possible at the highest political level. As a result, the meetings of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors were raised to the level of heads of state and government.

Since then, the G20 leaders have met regularly, and the G20 has become the central forum for international economic cooperation.


The G20 heads of state and government traditionally focus on issues concerning global economic growth, international trade and financial market regulation. They endeavour in particular to strengthen the global financial system and to improve the supervision and regulation of financial market participants, including what is known as the shadow banking system.

The aim is to ensure that no financial market, financial market participant or financial product remains unsupervised. Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill again for bailing out financial market participants.

Furthermore, the G20 constantly addresses ways to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced global economic growth and to boost employment.

Since the first G20 summit in Washington DC in 2008, trade has also been an item on the G20's permanent agenda, as growth and employment are dependent on free global trade. The G20, therefore, regularly sends clear messages against protectionism and in favour of fair terms of competition.

Other issues of global significance are often closely linked to economic questions. Examples include climate change, development policy, labour market and employment policy, the spread of digital technology and, currently, refugee policy issues and counter-terrorism. That is why ministerial meetings are held in addition to the summit at the invitation of the respective host country.


The group has met annually at Head of State and Government level since 2008. The G20 Summits have been held in the following places:

  • Washington, US, in 2008
  • London, UK, in 2009
  • Pittsburgh, US, in 2009
  • Toronto, Canada, in 2010
  • Seoul, South Korea, in 2010
  • Cannes, France, in 2011
  • Los Cabos, Mexico, in 2012
  • St Petersburg, Russia, in 2013
  • Brisbane, Australia, 2014
  • Antalya, Turkey, in 2015
  • Hangzhou, China, in 2016


The decisions made by the G20, as a major informal forum for international cooperation in the economic sphere, have had considerable influence on countries' policies through voluntary commitments and can provide significant impetus for binding agreements.

The first two G20 summits (2008 and 2009) took place against the backdrop of a looming global recession whose dimensions were impossible to forecast.

At that time, the G20 agreed on immediate economic measures worth over four trillion US dollars. It thus launched almost 90 per cent of the global economic measures and calmed the markets. The meetings confirmed that only joint coordinated action can prevent a global economic crisis.

The G20 has been successful in regulating the international financial market. At the first summit in Washington DC (2008), the G20 heads of state and government adopted a 47-point plan containing a host of measures aimed at tackling and preventing financial crises. The G20 agreed on measures to reform and regulate the financial markets and to support national banking systems in order to normalise lending.

The summit in London (2009) agreed to raise capital requirements for banks and to cap bank managers' pay. The Seoul summit (2010) saw the launch of Basel III, with a higher level of capital for banks and national bank regulation.

At the summit in Antalya (2015), the G20 agreed on additional total loss-absorbing capacities for systemically important banks in order to prevent taxpayers having to foot the bill if a bank collapses. The G20 is constantly working to further improve the international financial market architecture.

The G20 has been instrumental in combating tax evasion. The G20 has also proven successful in the sphere of combating harmful tax competition between countries and aggressive tax policies adopted by international firms.

In Antalya in 2015, the G20 agreed on a 15-point Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Action Plan, which it reaffirmed at its 2016 summit in Hangzhou.

The exchange of information between the G20 members is a crucial aspect when it comes to combating profit shifting into tax havens. The G20 has committed to launching this type of automatic exchange of tax-related information by the end of 2017 or 2018.




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Russian President Vladimir Putin has addressed the German public directly ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg, writing an exclusive op-ed for the German newspaper Handelsblatt.

Putin stressed his belief in common ground shared by Moscow and Berlin in the areas such as climate change, and praised the G20 as a necessary and effective forum for resolving trans-national issues.

The G20 had been a successful "instrument of global crisis management" during the 2008 financial crisis and was needed more than ever in light of heightened geo-political and environmental risks in 2017, the Russian President wrote on Thursday, Xinhua news agency reported.

"Russia welcomes the widening of the G20's agenda. I hereby refer to... sustainable development, climate change, the fight against terrorism and corruption, as well as health-, migration- and refugee policy."

Putin congratulated German Chancellor Angela Merkel for Germany's efforts to host a constructive summit marked by mutual respect. He warned, however, that the tasks faced by the G20 were daunting.


"Older economic models are almost obsolete. Protectionism is becoming the norm. Politically-motivated and one-sided sanctions in areas such as investment, trade and technology transfers are another hidden form thereof. In our view, such sanctions do not just lack perspective, they contradict the principals of the G20 to work together towards the interests of all countries of the world."

The article went on to emphasize Russia's commitment to free trade and combating climate change.

He was convinced that "only trade based on open and uniform norms and standards" could promote global growth, Putin wrote.

The Russian President noted that his country was a reliable international partner when it came to climate change, which had more than fulfilled its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and was dedicated to upholding the Paris agreement.

Lastly, Putin addressed the topic of cyber-security and information technology.

While Russia attached great value to granting individuals open access to information technology like the internet, states needed to balance security and freedom carefully to prevent the digital world from becoming a refuge for criminals.

He also called for the benefits of the digital economy to be spread more evenly between and within countries.




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President Donald Trump opens his two-nation European visit with what he expects to be a short but warm stop in Poland before he encounters what could be a frostier reception and thornier issues at an international summit in Germany. Trump’s sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s first launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile threaten to put Trump’s skills as a negotiator to the test.

Trump was arriving in Warsaw late Wednesday for a 16-hour visit that includes a keynote address to the Poles from Krasinski Square, site of a monument commemorating the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis. He has meetings with the leaders of Poland and Croatia and plans a joint news conference his first one abroad with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Trump also was meeting with the heads of a dozen countries bordered by the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas. Collectively known as the Three Seas Initiative, the group aims to expand and modernize energy and trade with a goal of reducing the region’s dependence on Russian energy.

Duda told Polish broadcaster TVN24 on Wednesday that he wants to tackle concrete issues like energy security in the meeting with Trump, not engage in “some general talk about world security.” Trump recently devoted a week to US energy production.

At the same time, Trump will have to contend with escalating tensions with North Korea after it successfully launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile this week. Asked, as he left the White House on Wednesday, what he would do about North Korea, Trump said only: “We’re going to do very well.”

Trump, who’s been seeking China’s help in containing Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, also tweeted his frustration with China for continuing to trade with North Korea.

“So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!” Trump wrote.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is among at least nine leaders that Trump is scheduled to meet with later in the week in Germany during the Group of 20 summit of the world’s leading rich and developing countries. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to join Trump in Germany.

Trump will also walk a fine line when he meets Friday with Putin. The highly anticipated sit-down comes when relations between the two nations are at a low point, and with the president showing reluctance to adopt a harder line toward Russia amid conclusions by multiple US intelligence agencies that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election to benefit Trump, and continuing federal and congressional investigations into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russian government officials.

Trump’s return to Europe follows a shaky inaugural visit in late May and signs of unhappiness around the globe with his presidency.

A recent Pew Research Center survey of attitudes toward Trump in more than three dozen countries found fewer than 3 in 10 respondents expressing confidence in his ability to do the right thing on international affairs.

Trump’s earlier visit was marred by several awkward encounters, including a tough speech to NATO members urging them to spend more on their armed forces, an uncomfortable handshake with France’s new president and a caught-on-camera moment when Trump pushed past the prime minister of Montenegro to get to the front of a group photo opportunity.

Poland may offer him a chance to shine.

Polish media reports say the government promised the White House cheering crowds as part of its invitation. Ruling party lawmakers and pro-government activists plan to bus in groups of people for Trump’s speech. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on the reports.

With Trump’s sights already set on getting re-elected in 2020, the visit to Poland could also be seen as a power play for battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, home to hundreds of thousands of Polish-American voters.

Trump may also seek to use Poland as an exemplar of partnership. A US ally in Iraq and Afghanistan, Poland is among the five NATO members that spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on the military. That’s something that Trump and US leaders before him have demanded of NATO allies.

Poland also hosts a few thousand US troops, in addition to supporting US and NATO forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s also a regular purchaser of U.S. military equipment.

The Polish government has emphasized that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine poses a threat to the whole of Europe, something that will inevitably be raised in discussions with Trump as Europeans aim to gauge his willingness to confront Putin when they meet face to face on Friday.




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WASHINGTON:  It was a constant refrain on the campaign trail for Donald Trump in his quest for the US presidency: "We're going to have a great relationship with Putin and Russia."

Now, weighed down by claims that Moscow helped put him in the White House, Trump is set to finally meet his Russian counterpart in an encounter fraught with potential danger for the struggling American leader.

The talks are due to take place late Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

There should be no shortage of subjects to discuss, including the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, North Korea's nuclear program and efforts to combat terrorism.

But for Trump, the main challenge will be how to improve ties with Putin without seemingly going soft on a man who  American intelligence agencies say oversaw a massive effort to influence the outcome of last year's US elections.

"Trump needs to be polite but firm and not too friendly," said Michael O'Hanlon, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution.

"If he wants to improve US-Russia relations down the road, he needs to convey the gravity of his concerns about recent Russian behavior first. Otherwise, Putin may think he's a pushover, and the Congress will rise in opposition to Trump's Russia policy."

Trump's surprise election in November was expected to have heralded an upturn in relations between Moscow and Washington.

But ties that had chilled under Barack Obama have become even frostier, with Russia's backing for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria a particular source of friction.

Moscow was furious when the Trump administration launched a cruise missile strike against Syrian forces in April, in retaliation for what Washington said was a chemical weapons attack by Assad's regime against civilians.

Talks between senior US and Russian diplomats that had been set for last month were cancelled by Moscow in the wake of Washington's decision to reinforce sanctions imposed over Russian interference in Ukraine and its occupation of Crimea.

And an FBI investigation into whether Trump's campaign team colluded with Moscow during the election -- claims the president has dismissed as "fake news" -- have further complicated matters.

Trump has yet to hand back two Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York that were impounded on Obama's orders in December as evidence emerged of election meddling.

But while the portents may not be great, both sides do appear keen to make some headway.
- 'Constructive relationship' -

Senior Putin aide Yuri Ushakov has said the meeting should be crucial for international stability and it was in both sides' interests "to break the current impasse in bilateral relations."

HR McMaster, Trump's national security advisor, said there is no specific agenda for the talks and the main aim is to forge a "more constructive relationship" while also confronting Moscow over its "destabilizing behavior."

The pair could find common ground when discussing how to deal with the Islamic State group whose last strongholds -- Mosul in Iraq and Raqa in Syria -- appear to be on the verge of collapse.

But for the 71-year-old Trump -- still an absolute novice when it comes to diplomacy -- the optics of the meeting with a leader who has been in power for nearly two decades will be sensitive.

Trump was embarrassed back in May when he was accused of revealing sensitive intelligence information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a White House meeting.

For O'Hanlon, the best that could be hoped from Friday's meeting is a slight thaw in relations and the two men possibly striking up some kind of chemistry despite the toxic background.

"I can't imagine any issues they can actually make major headway on, given the poison that surrounds the relationship," he said.

"And so I hope that they can at least begin to develop a personal rapport that allows maybe the next conversation to get into substance on Syria, because there really isn't that much time to waste."




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  • Qatar has said it plans to increase natural gas production by 30 per cent
  • Qatar is the world's biggest producer of Liquefied Natural Gas
  • The announcement comes after Saudi Arabia and its allies imposed a sweeping embargo on Qatar last month


DOHA: Energy-rich Qatar said on Tuesday it plans to increase natural gas production by 30 per cent over the next several years, as it faces pressure from its neighbours in a diplomatic crisis+ .

Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, the head of Qatar Petroleum+ , told a press conference that the emirate intends to raise production to 100 million tonnes of natural gas a year by 2024.

"This new project will strengthen Qatar's leading position," Kaabi told reporters.

"We will remain the leader of LNG for a very long time."

Qatar is the world's biggest producer of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Qatar's current production is up to 77 million tonnes per year. The expansion will increase output levels up to the equivalent of six million barrels of oil per day, Kaabi said.

The announcement comes as the Gulf faces its worst diplomatic crisis in years afterSaudi Arabia and its allies+ imposed a sweeping embargo on Qatar last month.

Its timing is likely to be seen as as much political as economic.

On Monday, Qatar gave its response to a 13-point list of demands+ its neighbours made for lifting their sanctions. Kaabi said Qatar wanted the production increase to be carried out through a joint venture with international companies.

But he added that the emirate would still go ahead with it even if Saudi Arabia and its allies made good on their threat to sanction any international firm working with Qatar if it failed to meet their demands. "If there are no companies willing to work with us, we will do the 100 million tonnes," he said.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar, the world's top seller of liquefied natural gas (LNG), accusing it of supporting terrorism. Doha denies the accusation.

The four Arab states will meet on Wednesday to discuss whether to end the crisis or impose further sanctions on Qatar.








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US warplane downs Syrian army jet in Raqqa province

Written by Monday, 19 June 2017 07:08



  • 1. A US warplane shot down a Syrian army jet on Sunday in the southern Raqqa countryside.
  • 2. Plane was downed "in collective self-defense of Coalition-partnered forces."
  • 3. The US-led coalition has escalated its aerial bombing campaign in northern Syria and Raqqa province.

A US warplane shot down a Syrian army jet on Sunday in the southern Raqqa countryside, with Washington saying the jet had dropped bombs near US-backed forces and Damascus saying the plane was downed while flying a mission against Islamic State militants.

A Syrian army statement released on Syrian state television said the plane crashed and the pilot was missing in the first such downing of a Syrian jet by the United States since the start of the conflict in 2011.

 The army statement said it took place on Sunday afternoon near a village called Rasafah.

 The "flagrant attack was an attempt to undermine the efforts of the army as the only effective force capable with its allies ... in fighting terrorism across its territory," the Syrian army said.

 "This comes at a time when the Syrian army and its allies were making clear advances in fighting the Daesh (Islamic State) terrorist group," it added.


 The US Central Command later issued a statement saying the Syrian plane was downed "in collective self-defense of Coalition-partnered forces," identified as fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Tabqah.

 It said that "pro-Syrian regime forces" had earlier attacked an SDF-held town south of Tabqa and wounded a number of fighters, driving them from the town.

 Coalition aircraft in a show of force stopped the initial advance. When a Syrian army SU-22 jet later dropped bombs near the US-backed forces, it was immediately shot down by a US F/A-18E Super Hornet, the statement said.

 Before it downed the plane, the coalition had "contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established "de-confliction line" to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing."

 The coalition does "not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces" but would not "hesitate to defend itself or its "partnered forces from any threat," the statement said.


The US-led coalition has in recent weeks escalated its aerial bombing campaign in northern Syria and Raqqa province. US-backed forces have encircled the city of Raqqa and captured several districts from the militants.

 The Syrian army, which has been taking territory from retreating Islamic State militants in the eastern Aleppo countryside, has moved into Raqqa province and seized back some oil fields and villages that had been under the militants' control for almost three years.

 An SDF official said that the Syrian army had been engaged in skirmishes in recent days with US-backed forces near the town of Maskaneh close to the borders of Raqqa province, much of which is now held by US-backed groups fighting Islamic State.

 The Syrian army backed by Iranian-backed militias has also been in competition in southeastern Syria with US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels who are also trying to recapture territory from Islamic State.

 On several occasions in recent weeks, warplanes of the US-led coalition have also struck pro-government forces to prevent them advancing from a US-controlled garrison in southeastern Syria at a spot where the country's borders join with Iraq and Jordan.

Washington also described those strikes as self-defense.




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China on Monday said its President Xi Jinping and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had met “several times” during the recently-held Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Kazakhstan capital, Astana, PTI reported. Beijing’s statement came days after reports said Xi had skipped a customary meeting with Sharif at the SCO summit after two Chinese teachers were murdered in Balochistan last week.

“Some reports are just nonsense and unwanted,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said, according to PTI. “China and Pakistan enjoy an all-weather strategic partnership.” However, the spokesperson did not confirm if the meetings between Xi and Sharif were bilateral in nature or not.

On June 8, it was reported that two Chinese citizens who were kidnapped from Quetta in Pakistan by the Islamic State group had been killed. China had condemned the incident saying the abduction highlighted the “risks” associated with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Hindustan Times had reported.

Last week it was reported that Xi had held meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev, except Sharif at the SCO summit. Meanwhile, it was also reported that the Pakistan prime minister had met with the presidents of Kazakhstan, Russia and Afghanistan, but did not meet Xi.

Lu said all member nations at the summit had agreed to “build on the Shanghai spirit” and step up the cooperation between the new and old members. “The summit has realised the first-ever membership enlargement of the SCO,” Lu said. “As you know India and Pakistan have got full membership.”

The spokesperson further said that the summit appreciated the Belt Road Forum which was held in Beijing last month. This forum was boycotted by India over concerns relating to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.




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  • 1
    Nawaz Sharif to appear before a JIT panel over the Panama Papers case.
  • 2
    The team issued summons asking Sharif "to appear on June 15".
  • 3
    On June 2, Sharif's son Hassan Nawaz appeared before the probe team.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will appear before a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in connection with the Panama Papers probe into his family's assets, the local media reported today.

Sharif on Thursday will become the first sitting Pakistani Prime Minister to appear before an investigating agency, reports Dawn news.

On June 8, the team issued summons asking Sharif "to appear on Thursday, June 15 at 11 am, at the office of the JIT, Federal Judicial Academy, Islamabad".


The summons also instructed the Prime Minister to "kindly bring along relevant record/documents/material" related to the Panama Papers case which will entail nearly all the documents and evidence submitted before the Supreme Court by Sharif's counsel, Makhdoom Ali Khan.

Sources said that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar may also be questioned by the team before Sharif's appearance.

In its judgement of April 20 in the Panama Papers case, the Supreme Court had constituted the JIT and empowered it to summon the Prime Minister, his sons and any other person necessary, to investigate allegations of money-laundering, through which the four apartments in London's Park Lane area were purchased.

On June 2, the Prime Minister's youngest son Hassan Nawaz appeared before the six-member probe team headed by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Additional Director General Wajid Zia, reports Dawn news.

A day earlier, Sharif's elder son, Hussain Nawaz, appeared before the JIT for the third time to defend the money trail of the Sharifs' London properties.

In his first appearance, Hussain refused to answer questions put forth by the investigative body, saying that the JIT's status was "sub judice" as he had already filed a petition before the apex court regarding two of its constituents.

Subsequently, the apex court rejected Hussain's plea, seeking exclusion of the two JIT members.

After each of the next two hearings, he told the media that he answered all of the questions put forth to him by the members of the JIT.




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LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May was expected to hold her first cabinet meeting on Saturday in an early test of her hopes of forming a stable government after a crushing election setback.

Facing demands to quit after her electoral gamble failed, May on Friday scheduled an early weekend meeting of her governing circle in an apparent bid to reassert authority and project stability.

But the firestorm of criticism continued unabated early Saturday after May announced she would keep her ministerial team unchanged and planned to stay in power with the aid of a small Northern Irish party.

Media commentators agreed she had been badly damaged, and some predicted she and her strategy for Brexit could struggle to survive.

"May fights to remain PM," the Daily Telegraph headlined. "Tories turn on Theresa," said the pro-conservative Daily Mail. The Times wrote: "May stares into the abyss." The tabloid Sun said succinctly: "She's had her chips."

May was interior minister for six years before rising to premier in the political chaos that following last June's Brexit referendum.

She has vowed to steer Britain unerringly out of the European Union, unwinding a complex economic and institutional relationship that has developed over 44 years.

After inheriting a 17-seat overall majority in the House of Commons, May in April announced a snap election three years ahead of time, declaring she needed a stronger hand in the Brexit haggle.

That move, by a vicar's daughter who styled herself as pragmatic and risk-averse, stunned the country.

May was initially forecast to be on course for a landslide.

But cracks in her campaign-trail performance began to show, and widened with a bad tactical misstep she made on health care for the elderly.

Those flaws were skilfully exploited by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran grassroots activist who hammered away at May as cold and uncaring.

Polling day on Thursday delivered a slap to May, leaving her eight seats short of the 326-seat mark for an overall majority.

Forced into minority government, May is reaching out to Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which won 10 seats, in the hope of forging a working majority.

But any deal between the two parties has yet to be announced, and details of how they may cooperate remain sketchy.

"It's too soon to say what we're going to do yet. I think we need to see the final make-up of parliament and then we'll reflect on that," DUP leader Arlene Foster told Radio Ulster late Friday.

"I certainly think that there will be contact made over the weekend but I think it is too soon to talk about what we're going to do."

The DUP is rooted in a hardline form of Protestantism that opposes Ulster's reunification with the predominantly Catholic Irish Republic.

It is socially conservative, notably opposing same-sex marriage, and supports Brexit, but opposes a return to a "hard" border between the Irish Republic and the British province.

The inner Irish border is expected to be one of dozens of thorny issues in the Brexit talks.

The formal parlay, considered by diplomatic veterans as likely to be one of the most daunting negotiations in recent memory, begins on June 19.

But there is only a two-year timeframe for sealing a deal, under a process unleashed by May herself on March 29 and further delayed by her own election gambit.

May's pitch to the eurosceptic rightwing of the Conservative Party has nudged Britain closer to a "hard Brexit," in which it may cut ties with Brussels at the cost of damaging itself economically by losing access to the lucrative single European market, say analysts.




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