You are here: Home » Opinion » Columns
Business Standard

Aditi Phadnis: Inside the Sharif family

Interesting facts about the family and its business interests

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Raiwind, “ab toh yahan aana jaana laga rahega” to which Sharif replied, “apka ghar hai”. This makes it incumbent upon us Indians to know better, the family and other interests of those to whose ghar there will be aana and jaana. As reporters scurried to update themselves with who Sajjan Jindal was and why he could have been an interlocutor in organising Modi’s visit and his meeting with Sharif, Business Standard did some digging and came up with interesting facts on the Sharif family and its business interests.

Much of the credit for the information goes to a Pakistani website,, which is both serious and satirical — serious because it handles the Pakistan narrative in terms of global concerns; and satirical because, well, it is just so funny and witty and irreverent!

In 1998, a book came out on the corporate interests of Nawaz Sharif’s extended family. Called Who Owns Pakistan, it was written by Shahid-ur-Rehman, a respected Pakistani journalist who has been covering finance and the economy for nearly three decades. Remember that after Nawaz Sharif became prime minister in the 1990s, Pakistan went through a wave of privatisation and tweaked a number of policies dressed up as economic liberalisation? Rehman’s contention is that most of the moves were made merely to strengthen various industrial houses, including the Sharif family’s. The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz government had marked 115 units for privatisation, of which 67 were privatised by 1997.

Rehman says the Ittefaq Group holdings belonged to the Sharif family, which gained the most from these moves. The Ittefaq Foundries, a relatively modest cast-iron parts business, was established in 1939 by Mian Mohammad Sharif and his six brothers, a family of Kashmiri immigrants who settled in Punjab in the late 19th century. After migrating from Amritsar at the time of Partition, the family settled in Lahore where Nawaz Sharif started the iron business, initially on a limited scale and later grew it, even as aristocratic Pakistanis sniffed about the rise and rise of the fortunes of the “lohars”. In 1972, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government nationalised several private-sector businesses, including the Sharif family’s. They then moved their business to West Asia but while Ittefaq’s fortunes plummeted (in 1998, according to Rehman, 119 offspring of the founders of the Ittefaq Group were fighting court cases on inheritance and assets division. Mian Mohammad Sharif died in 2000). Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, quietly worked on their business and grew it. The steel business continued, but the family also acquired property abroad (in the UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) and in Pakistan as well as agriculture-related concerns like poultry feed and other assets. studied the claims in the book, cross-checked and indexed it to other public sources of information on the family’s commercial interests and came to the conclusion that to attribute all the wealth of the Ittefaq Group to the Sharif family was not accurate. That said, the Sharif family is by no means poor. The website checked both Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif’s family income and assets as furnished by the Sharifs in 2013, according to the law in Pakistan which makes public disclosure of assets mandatory for those contesting elections.

The Sharif group’s website claims they are worth $300 million in business and $100 million in real estate holdings. Mian Mohammad Sharif’s wife, Shamim Akhtar (Nawaz Sharif’s Ammi, whose feet our PM respectfully touched when he met her) owns the Jati Umra estate that Modi visited. Nawaz Sharif has two sons (Hassan, Hussain) and two daughters (Maryam and Asma). Shahbaz Sharif has two wives and two sons (Hamza, also having two wives; and Salman) and a daughter, Rabia Imran. The third brother, Abbas Sharif, has two sons and two daughters too. This brings the total number of living shareholders of the family estate, with great-grandchildren, to around 40.

The Sharifs have assets in Saudi Arabia, established when Nawaz Sharif was in exile. These include a steel mill amounting to PKR 700 crore in capital. The UAE assets — mills and suchlike — have been liquidated. Ramzan Energy is registered on the Karachi Stock Exchange, but is not a full-fledged company yet. It is a bagasse power plant. Gulshan Carpets was a company allegedly owned by Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam, but upon checking it was found to be listed in someone else’s name (sounds familiar?). During FY 2013, there is also a combined cash transfer and bank remittance from Hussain Nawaz of PKR 19.7 crore.

Hamza Sharif’s 2011 assets declaration shows an unsecured loan of PKR 5.18 lakh against the name of his father, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Known as the poultry king of Punjab, Hamza Sharif’s assets amount to PKR 21.10 crore.

The family also runs a charitable Sharif Trust that comprises engineering and medical and dental colleges, and the Sharif School of Applied Health Sciences. And no, they do not run a newspaper.

These are just vignettes from the list of assets, which is exhaustive and makes for riveting reading, especially the part about landholdings. Business Standard has not been able to verify the assertions independently. But assesses that the 40-odd members of the Sharif family own a PKR 4,000-crore business empire. Nawaz Sharif’s personal holdings amount to between PKR 500 crore and 1,000 crore. Much of this is illiquid. He and his wife own PKR 14 crore in bank deposits and cash.

So be warned! That’s the ghar you’re dealing with!

First Published: Fri, January 01 2016. 22:08 IST