PMO data leaks stir controversy

Muhammad Saleh Zaafir
Monday, Sep 26, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The purported data leaks from the Prime Minister’s Office on the dark web has created a stir across the country and evoked a fresh controversy. The dark web IndiShell posted a message about leaked audio files on Aug 20, 2022 on a dark web forum named “BreachForums”.

In the purported clip, PMLN vice president Maryam Nawaz Sharif criticised the performance of Finance Minister Miftah Ismail. In the following thread, a voice, said to be that of Maryam Nawaz Sharif, is telling Prime Minister Shehbaz that she was grateful for the support of someone who has been publicising as well as gatekeeping news as per her demand, referring to a media group (Not Geo). The reference wasn’t identifiable due to poor quality of voice.

Maryam Nawaz is heard as calling Shehbaz Sharif as “uncle” very respectfully in the whole conversation. Just a day earlier, an audio recording of an alleged conversation, purportedly between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and a government official, (presumably his Principal Secretary Syed Tauqeer Shah) was leaked on social media. Prime Minister Shehbaz could be heard saying that Maryam Nawaz had asked him to facilitate her son-in-law Raheel with the import of machinery for a power plant from India.

The clip purportedly featured a conversation between Maryam Nawaz and the premier about Miftah, who faced criticism within the party for taking tough economic measures. Maryam flaked at Miftah for hiking petrol and electricity prices, saying she did not own such decisions, whether her party was in government or not. “He doesn’t take responsibility, make strange comments on TV which become a laughing stock, he doesn’t know what he is doing,” the voice said to be of Maryam says in the reported clip.

“He clearly cut corners,” the voice said to be Shehbaz Sharif’s is heard as saying. “Uncle, he doesn’t know what he is doing,” Maryam purportedly says, as she wishes for the return of PML-N stalwart Senator Muhammad Ishaq Dar, who is also the father-in-law of her younger sister.

The second clip allegedly concerns a conversation between the Prime Minister, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and former speaker National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq about the resignations of PTI lawmakers from the NA.

A third clip purportedly features a conversation between Maryam and PM Shehbaz regarding the return of former Army Chief Gen Pervez Musharraf. The former military ruler’s family publicly confirmed in June that he was “going through a difficult stage” where recovery was not possible while ISPR DG Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar said Musharraf’s family was in contact with the military regarding his planned return.

Discussing this in the alleged clip, the voice alleged to be Maryam’s can be heard saying that she “sees this coming”, adding that she said the same to Nawaz in a phone call. “I told him to tweet this. He listened to me immediately,” the PML-N vice president allegedly says, adding that the move was “opposed” by several people.

She allegedly reasons that showing “magnanimity” in this situation would help the government save face. Hours after Gen Iftikhar’s comments were aired in June, Nawaz Sharif had tweeted, saying: “I have no personal enmity or animosity towards Pervez Musharraf. I don’t want anyone else to suffer the trauma I have had to endure.”

The clip which was made public first, a voice said to be that of Shehbaz Sharif informs the government official about Maryam Nawaz looking to import machinery from India for a power plant, upon the request of her son-in-law Raheel. The official was apprised that half of the machinery had already arrived while the other half was remaining. The officer could be heard saying that this was a matter of “grave concern” as being a relative of the PM, the issue could “wreak havoc if it comes to the knowledge of the ECC and then of the federal cabinet”.

The voice thought to belong to the PM responded by saying that he would talk to Maryam himself after his return from Turkey, to which the official suggested leaving the matter to former finance minister Ishaq Dar. In the two-minute long clip, the two voices also discuss Maryam’s request for a grid station for a housing society belonging to Raheel, to which the voice said to be of Shehbaz said this “can be executed routinely as it is a fairly common practice”.

The second audio clip leaked on Sunday is allegedly between the federal cabinet members in which the final approval on the resignations of PTI members was taken from London.

The IndiShell has notified on the web that important and complete conversation of Prime Minister with all high profile people including those who are influential and not in power. Samples speak of what all is available to the highest bidder. Important details in data will only be given to the highest bidder after all delivery details will be finalised. The total size has been indicated as 8GB while number of the files given as 100 plus and minimum bid is 1808 BTC equal to US$304,286 (Pak rupees 81 crores). The Dark Web is internationally known for its blackmailing tactics.

The reported discussion between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and PML-N senior leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif was about a policy pertaining to a confused policy of the ousted government of Imran Khan, put in place way back in 2020.

The audio couldn’t yield any adverse impact since the conversation was within the parameters of law. The sources close to Maryam Nawaz Sharif told The News that there was muddle regarding the effect of the 2020 import ban on a power plant, which was nearly complete when the ban was placed.

The leak has no significance being “a leak” since not a single word has been uttered by the two contrary to law and regulations. The impression that Maryam Nawaz was asking for a favour for her son-in-law proved frivolous since it has no substance. It is being assumed that Maryam Nawaz asked the government to allow her son-in-law’s company to import an Indian power plant, whereas the truth is that 60 percent of the power plant had already been completed before 2020, when the ban on Indian imports was enforced.

The sources said that the snippet of the conversation leaked on social media did not depict the full picture. “In that conversation, clarity was being sought from the government because of the relationship with Maryam Nawaz Sharif. The question being discussed was: should the company ask the government to allow it to complete the project as it was started before the ban.” The company was told by representatives of the government that although it was unfortunate that the import policy changed during the construction of the plant, exceptions could not be made, especially when there may be conflict of interest.

In this case, the government was sensitive to the company’s close association with Maryam Nawaz Sharif, and therefore, urged its representatives to find an alternate solution. In the meanwhile, the company sources told this scribe that they respected the government’s position and completed the rest of the project by importing machinery from China. The exercise burdened the company with additional rupees one billion. It is pertinent to state that most of the power plants in use by other companies consist of machinery imported from India.

For the reason seeking of clarifications from the government wasn’t unusual. A day earlier, a leaked audio featuring Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif portrayed a discussion regarding PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz asking for a power plant from India to be imported for her son-in-law. “He is our son-in-law, inform him about the issues in importing a plant from India,” Prime Minister Shehbaz allegedly said, to an unidentified person who is presumed to be an official. He advises the prime minister that the optics of the decision to allow the company to import the machinery from India would be terrible. The prime minister can be heard agreeing with him and asks him to convey these reservations to Maryam’s son-in-law and that he would convey the same at a later meeting. The sources said that Maryam Nawaz will come out with details in the matter soon and explain all aspects of the developments.