By Drazen Jorgic and Mehreen Zahra-Malik
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan, who tried to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a row over offshore wealth, has acknowledged using an off-shore company to avoid paying British tax on a London property sale.
Analysts say the admission is likely to ease the pressure on Sharif's government from a Panama Papers data leak that showed Sharif's children had used off-shore companies to buy London properties. Last month the government bowed to opposition demands for a review by an independent commission.
Khan's PTI party initially denied media claims that he bought a property in London through an off-shore company in 1983, when he was playing cricket in England. But late on Friday, Khan said he set up the company to legally avoid paying British taxes.
"Because I was not a British citizen, an offshore flat was bought. When I sold that flat in 2003, I did not have to pay the taxes in U.K.," Khan told reporters at London's Heathrow Airport. "There is nothing illegal in it."
PTI and Khan did not respond to requests for comment.
Khan, long revered as a cricketing hero, had relentlessly needled Sharif over the Panama Papers revelations and railed against people who use off-shore companies to dodge tax.
Media commentators and Nawaz supporters quoted back at him his Twitter comment from last month: "Only reason ppl open offshore accts through Panama is to either hide wealth, esp ill-gotten wealth, or to evade tax or both."
Umar Cheema, a Pakistani reporter who collaborated with the International Committee of Journalists (ICIJ) on the Panama Papers leak, said Khan's use of an off-shore company in 1983 pre-dates anything found in the Panama Papers about other Pakistanis.
Khan "is pioneer in offshore company formation, among Pakistanis. Not only the oldest, his company remained operational for the longest period," Cheema said on Twitter.
Mohammad Zubair, the privatization minister, said Khan should prepare to face a parliamentary grilling. He added Sharif does not own any off-shore companies.
Sharif's daughter Maryam, who is alleged to have owned an off-shore company used to buy a flat in London, also waded in.
"The 'PIONEER' of offshore companies ..... The TRAILBLAZER award goes to Mr. Khan. #Hypocrisy," she said on Twitter.
One political analyst said the opposition was likely to keep using the Panama Papers to pillor Sharif but Khan's revelations will help blunt those attacks.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)