Pakistanis in Hong Kong call on government to bar Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from entering city

Petition online fuelled by anger at allegations of corruption, for which leader is currently under investigation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 3:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 May, 2017, 5:27pm

Pakistani residents in Hong Kong have demanded that the government bar their own prime minister from entering the city, saying Nawaz Sharif’s current involvement with accusations of corruption mean that could give the appearance of allowing “alleged criminals to seek safe haven”.

By Saturday afternoon, an online petition to that effect had passed 1,200 signatures.

One of the creators of the petition said he and others would organise “multiple protests” if Sharif enters Hong Kong.

After joining the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, Sharif is expected to arrive in Hong Kong on Tuesday and leave on Thursday. While in the city, an official source said Sharif would meet the chief executive and local businessmen, and join a business forum.

It is Sharif’s first official visit abroad since Pakistan’s top court on May 5 set up a high-level six-member Joint Investigation Team to probe corruption charges levelled against him and his sons. The commission has 60 days to complete the investigation.

“Pakistani residents and every law-abiding citizen of Hong Kong demand that the director of immigration ... bans Sharif from visiting Hong Kong” until the investigation has been concluded, read the text of the petition launched last week.

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“Allowing Sharif to enter Hong Kong ... will have a damaging impact on the reputation of Hong Kong as a city that allows alleged criminals to seek safe haven.”

On April 20, after a year-long process, the Supreme Court of Pakistan announced a “thorough investigation” into corruption allegations involving Sharif and his family, which stemmed from revelations in the Panama Papers in April last year.

The leaked documents showed that three of Sharif’s children owned offshore companies and assets, which had not been disclosed on his family’s wealth statement. Suspicions were raised that they used the companies to hide or launder ill-gotten wealth, or avoid taxes.

Sharif and his relatives have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

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Two of the five judges at the top court suggested Sharif should be disqualified and called him “dishonest”. The remaining three ruled that an investigation should be launched. Investigators from civilian agencies and military intelligence services were tasked with examining the money trail, looking at records and collecting testimony from key players.

“The community is deeply concerned about this visit and about what is happening in Pakistan,” said the organiser of the petition Yasir Naveed, a mechanical engineer from Pakistan, who has lived in the city for more than a decade.

“We want to show that Pakistani people are not asleep and that we stand against corruption. We want to send a strong message to any corrupt leader or person in Pakistan that Hong Kong is not a safe haven.”

Naveed said: “Pakistan’s prime minister should be very clear on why he is coming to Hong Kong and Hong Kong officials have to be aware he is under investigation for corruption charges.”

He said that, were Sharif allowed to enter the city, he would help organise protests to “raise awareness” of the issue.

And he said any investment Sharif’s visit does attract would be wasted because of, as he sees it, the bad current government.

“Even if the entire world will start investing in Pakistan, that would only fill the pockets of the corrupt leaders. The opportunities will not go down to grassroots people,” Naveed said.

There are more than 30,000 Pakistanis living in Hong Kong. Overseas Pakistanis are not allowed to vote in their country’s elections.

Naveed said he is working on the campaign with 10 other Hong Kong-based Pakistani citizens. He said they hoped that other members of the diaspora would organise similar movements whenever Sharif tried to visit foreign countries.

The consul general of Pakistan in Hong Kong declined to comment on the petition.

An official source at the consulate said Sharif would meet Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Wednesday morning. The two leaders are expected to discuss China’s “Belt and Road” trade initiative and cultural cooperation.

On the same day, there will be a One Belt, One Road Pakistan Investment Forum at the Shangri-La hotel on Hong Kong Island, attended by 80 to 100 companies based in Hong Kong and the mainland. Leung will give the inaugural speech.

“Pakistan is hoping to enhance the scope of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ and involve Hong Kong companies,” an official source said, using an alternate name for the mainland initiative. “Hong Kong is very important for us, as many international companies are based here.”

In 2013, Islamabad and Beijing launched a so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The US$55 billion investment programme is focused on energy and infrastructure projects.

Sharif will meet Pakistani businessmen and financial institutions in the city. The Post has learned that he had also sought a meeting with chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Sharif will be accompanied by the country’s minister of commerce and the chairman of the board of investment of Pakistan.

The Chief Executive’s Office and the secretary for security did not respond to queries on the petition.

A short press release was issued on Friday confirming the meeting between Sharif and Leung.

Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to address an audience of 1,000 of his compatriots on Saturday afternoon.

Duterte will make a speech to Hong Kong’s Filipino community at the Regal Airport Hotel, followed by a possible question-and-answer session, according to a group invited to the event.

He is the second leader of an Asian country to visit the city in the past two weeks, after Indonesian President Joko Widodo made a stop in Hong Kong on April 30.