Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday likened his country’s money laundering suspects to the Sicilian mafia, saying they also use bribes, threats and blackmail to pressurize state institutions and the judiciary to protect their money illegally stashed abroad.

His remark came in a tweet accompanied by a four-year-old news article about a testimony given by former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano during a trial regarding bombings carried out by mobsters in the 1990s, the Dawn reported.

Napolitano was reported to have told prosecutors that the attacks were a form of “extortion or outright pressure aimed at destabilising the entire system”.

The bombings had allegedly led to high-ranking Italian ministers negotiating with the Sicilian mafia to end the violence in exchange for softer jail sentences and better conditions in prison for convicted mobsters.

“In a similar vein to the ‘Sicilian mafia’, the Pakistani mafia uses tactics of bribe, threat, blackmail and begging to pressurize state institutions and judiciary in order to protect their billions of money laundering stashed abroad,” Khan wrote on Twitter.

Although the Prime Minister did not name any individual or political party, his observation comes a day after Accountability Judge Arshad Malik claimed in an affidavit that he was offered Rs 500 million cash bribe by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s son, Hussain Nawaz, who demanded that the judge resign on the grounds that he “could no longer deal with the guilt of having convicted” his father under duress in the Al-Azizia/Hill Metal Establishment reference in December 2018.

On July 6, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President and Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, had opened a Pandora’s box with a startling claim that Malik had “confessed” that he had been “pressurized and blackmailed” to convict her father in the Al-Azizia reference.

A video containing the judge’s alleged confession during his conversation with a ‘sympathiser’ of the PML-N, Nasir Butt, was screened at a presser. The next day, the judge denied the allegation and being under any pressure, but admitted that Butt was an acquaintance.

On Saturday, Maryam was quick to hit back at the Prime Minister’s insinuation that members of the country’s opposition acted as a “mafia”.

“You’re a part of the mafia that pressurizes judges into targeting and punishing your political opponents. It is you who used the institutions to settle scores with your opponents and defaced and maligned them in the process. Shame on you,” she replied to Khan’s tweet.

In a second tweet in Urdu, she alleged that the Prime Minister was “part of the heinous conspiracy that was staged to punish Nawaz Sharif and keep him out of the field”.

To continue the war of words, Khan tweeted: “The poverty of the people is the actual cause of the devastation and ruination of a country; and the main cause of the poverty of the people is the desire of its ruler and officers to amass wealth and possessions whether by fair or foul means.”