ISLAMABAD - The family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Monday defended their ownership of offshore companies after they were named in the Panama Papers, one of the biggest media leaks in history.

The leak, comprising 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, shows how some of the world’s most powerful people have secreted their money offshore.

Among those named are three of Sharif’s four children – Maryam, who has been tipped to be his political successor; Hasan and Hussain, with the records showing they owned London real estate through offshore companies administered by the firm.

Revenue generation is particularly sensitive for Pakistan’s government, which is receiving a $6.6 billion bailout package from the IMF and has a tax-to-GDP ratio of 11 percent, among the lowest in the world.

Hussain Nawaz told a private TV channel his family had done “nothing wrong”, as opposition parties called for a through probe into the matter.

“Those apartments are ours and those offshore companies are also ours… There is nothing wrong with it and I have never concealed them, nor do I need to do that.

“It is according to British law and laws of other countries that it is a legal way to avoid unnecessary tax via offshore companies.”

Umar Cheema of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan told AFP, “Nawaz Sharif does not own any company but having companies in the name of his children also raises questions.”

The centre is partnered with the Investigative Consortium of Independent Journalists, which spent months poring over the documents before Sunday’s online release.

“There are more than 200 Pakistanis which our report has identified, and they include lawyers, lawmakers and some people from the judiciary,” Cheema said.

Hussain Nawaz said he left Pakistan in 1992 and therefore is not a resident, adding Pakistani tax law “says that if you are not staying in Pakistan for more than 138 days, then you are not required to declare your assets”.

Regarding Imran Khan’s call for the National Accountability Bureau to investigate the matter, he said “we voluntarily present ourselves before it or any other judicial and investigative institution in Pakistan”.

According to documents available on the ICIJ website, the PM’s children Maryam, Hasan and Hussain “were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several companies”.

Maryam is described as “the owner of British Virgin Islands-based firms Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited, incorporated in 1994 and 1993”.

On one of the documents released by ICIJ, the address listed for Nielsen Enterprises is Saroor Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The document, dated June 2012, describes Maryam Safdar as the ‘beneficial owner’.

But Maryam in a set of tweets said: “As stated earlier, I do NOT own any company/property abroad. My brother has made me a trustee in one of his corporations…

“Entitles me to distribute assets to my brother Hussain’s family/children if needed. Nothing more than what my brother has already explained.

“The info provided by leaks does NOT say any wrongdoing involved. Distortion is wilful that a couple of media channels using to settle scores.”

Pakistan’s information minister Pervez Rashid also denied Sharif’s children had committed any crime.

Addressing a news conference along with PML-N MNA Danyial Aziz in Islamabad, the minister claimed that the prime minister has no foreign assets. He said Panama Leaks re-confirmed that the prime minister has no assets or offshore companies abroad.

The minister said that the sons of PM, Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz have repeatedly acknowledged that they were doing business and explained sources of financing.

He also challenged PTI chief Imran Khan to prove in a UK court any illegality in the businesses owned by sons of the PM, instead of level allegations on media. PTI leader maintain double standard and he himself lives in a house made up of glass and pelts others with stones, he added.

He said Imran Khan was previously criticizing appointment of NAB chairman but now demanding the Bureau to investigate Panama Leaks. Imran would find fault with findings of the Bureau as he did with outcome of the judicial commission probing his allegations of rigging into 2013 general elections, he added.

The minister said PTI chairman should explain sources of his assets abroad and purchase of huge property at Banni Gala in Islamabad. He said ruling party would defeat Imran politically in 2018 elections on the basis of its five year performance while PTI leader would go to the masses on the basis of his lies.

Pervez Rashid said that Imarn used the donation of cancer hospital to buy properties in foreign countries. He said that Khan had admitted that he gifted flat to his wife in London and purchased land in Bani Gala but never declared his assets.

Earlier, speaking to media persons after launching ceremony of Islamabad Travel Guide Book, he said Pakistanis often invest outside the country as citizens of other countries are involved in investment in Pakistan.

He said the Sharif family has been targeted with allegations of corruption in the past as well but accusations never been proven. He noted PM Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif do not possess any real estate outside the country.

Meanwhile, a spokesman of Sharif family said there was no new information in Panama Leaks and some elements were disseminating wrong information and distorting it for political purposes.

In a statement, he said all of the corporations owned by the Sharif Family are legal and financially sound. Hussain Sharif and Hassan Sharif have been diligently filing their company reports and tax returns in their legal and tax jurisdictions.

The statement also clarified that Maryam Nawaz is not a beneficiary or owner of any of these companies. She also has not received any income or financial benefits from the corporations owned by her brothers. It said Maryam is merely a trustee of one of the corporations owned by Hussain.

As the prime minister has invited investment in Pakistan, the latest revelations could raise uncomfortable questions about why his family has kept their wealth abroad.

A report commissioned by Britain’s Department for International Development last year said Pakistan’s economy was facing an “existential crisis” stemming from its woeful tax collection rates and inability to finance itself.

Ali Nadir, a financial analyst, said the use of offshore companies was in some cases legitimate.

But he added: “I believe political and business leaders will be hard-pressed to take the privacy defence given the worldwide move towards a better track of money, tax evasion, laundering and corruption.

“This may also start more locally focused probes as there are likely to be disclosure issues.”

The Panama Papers have whipped up a storm of controversy over offshore wealth, ensnaring political leaders, sports figures and underworld members across the globe in the scandal.