Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, now exiled in Saudi Arabia, are planning to seek permission to set up a giant steel mill in Jeddah, according to reports appearing in the the press in Saudi Arabia and picked up by newspapers locally.

Sources in Lahore, close to the Ittefaq Steel Foundries owned by the Sharif family, also confirm that "there seems to be some truth in these reports, as queries have recently been made regarding requirements and details sought from experts on the kind of equipment to be purchased and its costs."

The Sharif empire is founded essentially on steel. The giant Ittefaq Foundry was the first concern set up by Nawaz's father, Mian Mohammad Sharif, and his partners – and is today one of the largest producers of steel in Pakistan.

The family's major area of expertise is also though to lie in the steel and iron business, although they have in recent years also expanded into many other areas of industry, including textiles and sugar processing. "Essentially they are also keen to build some assets abroad and have the links with the Saudi government that can enable them to do so," said a source.

According to reports, a loan is to be obtained from the Saudi Industrial Development Fund for the mill. If this loan is granted, the mill will be set up at a cost of around SR122.5 million on 30,000 square metres of land near Jeddah. Manpower will be brought in from Pakistan, while some people at top management levels have already been contacted.

Shares in the mill would belong almost solely to the Sharif family, and would be split mainly between Nawaz Sharif's youngest brother, Abbas, and the children of all the three Sharif brothers, Nawaz, Shahbaz and Abbas.