Special Court confirms pre-arrest bails of PM Shehbaz, Hamza & 16 other co-accused in Rs 16 billion alleged money laundering case
PM Shehbaz says the Day of Judgment will arrive but the FIA will not be able to prove even a rupee worth of corruption
LAHORE ( Web News )
Judge Special Court (Central-I), Ijaz Hassan Awan has confirmed the pre-arrest bails of Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Hamza Shehbaz Sharif and 16 other co-accused in Rs 16 billion alleged money laundering case on Saturday.
The court has directed PM Shehbaz Sharif and CM Hamza Shahbaz to submit surety bonds of Rs 1 million each; meanwhile the court has directed the co-accused to submit surety bonds of Rs 0.2 million. The court has directed the all the accused to submit surety bonds in the court in seven days.
Early on Saturday court reserved its decision on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz’s pre-arrest bail applications in a Rs.16 billion money laundering case registered against them by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
The court also reserved its decision on pre-arrest bail applications filed by other suspects in the case. In the hearing, the investigation officer informed the court that neither he nor the previous IO had submitted a fresh report requiring Shehbaz and Hamza’s custody.
PM Shehbaz and Hamza were summoned in Special Court (Central) on Saturday for questioning, with the prosecutors having concluded their arguments against an extension in interim bail which the father and son have sought.
The court reserved its verdict on all requests for bail, including those by PM Shehbaz and Hamza.
In his plea, PM Shehbaz stated: “I am obliged to inform the court of the truth regarding my bail.” He said that the case by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is identical to that being pursued by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
“The Ashiana [Housing Scheme] and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases were built against me,” said Shehbaz. “You have no ownership of them?” asked the judge.
“I have no share in either,” PM Shehbaz responded, adding that in the Ashiana case, he was accused of the misuse of his authority as chief minister.
“NAB moved the Supreme Court against me, despite the fact that the Lahore High Court had issued a detailed verdict in my case,” he said.
He said that the then chief justice had also asked for proof of corruption against him.
PM Shehbaz went on to state: “The FIA visited me twice when I was in NAB detention, but I refused to answer without my attorney’s input.”
He said that NAB “panicked and fled” from there, while the FIA was provided with all the facts verbally.
“My cases were decided on their merit, and I emerged clean,” he remarked.
The premier added that a man’s honour is his greatest asset and that “severe” allegations have been made against him.
“I faced countless hearings and trials. The FIA was admonished for not presenting a challan. I believe the FIA was preparing for an arrest, hence the challan was delayed,” he added.
He reiterated that he is neither a director nor a stakeholder of the Ramzan Sugar Mills.
PM Shehbaz continued: “[All this] harmed the family’s sugar mills. Why would I engage in corruption and money laundering and harm the family business?” He said that he “had the legal right to grant the business a subsidy”. “The entire case is built on lies and will be buried,” PM Shehbaz said.
PM Shehbaz Sharif, while addressing the court, said the FIA’s case was similar to another one registered against him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
There are cases related to the Ashiana Housing scheme and the Ramazan Sugar Mill against me, he said. When the judge asked Shehbaz whether he had any shares in those businesses, the premier responded in the negative.
“In the Ashiana case, it was alleged that I had misused my authority. The Lahore High Court (LHC) has given a detailed verdict in my cases. The NAB approached the Supreme Court for revocation of my bail and the then chief justice asked where the proof of corruption was. “The NAB ran away from there,” Shehbaz claimed.
The premier told the court that FIA had approached him twice when he was in NAB’s custody but he had told them he would not respond without consulting his lawyer.
“I told them all facts verbally. My cases were decided on merit and I was freed. Honour is also a man’s asset. Extremely serious allegations were levelled against me.”
Shehbaz also said he had appeared in several hearings related to the FIA case but the agency had not submitted a challan (investigation report) because it wanted to “create a path for arrest”.
“If I wanted to do money laundering or corruption, I would have taken the benefits I was entitled to legally. If I wanted to blacken my face with money laundering, why would I cause losses to my family’s sugar mills [during his tenure as chief minister]?”
The premier said he had not given sugar mills subsidies so as to not burden the national exchequer, adding that he had protected Punjab’s treasury instead of wasting it.
My sons had set up factories for ethanol production but I imposed a tax on them, he continued. The previous PTI government had removed that tax, he added.
“I do not have anything to do with the sugar business. All facts stated by the FIA are incorrect.” He also outlined programmes announced during his tenure as CM, including giving Bolan vans to unemployed people. “We got the car company to give a discount of Rs2.5bn and benefited the national treasury.
“The Day of Judgment will arrive but the FIA will not be able to prove even a rupee worth of corruption,” he insisted. “I went abroad 60 times; I have never taken salary or petrol [allowance]. I did not take government benefits. “The FIA is alleging that I have taken Rs20 million in lieu of party funds but I have left tens of millions.”
For his part, attorney Muhammad Amjad Pervez Advocate stated that the fact that Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz had previously been interrogated in jail by the FIA was sufficient proof for their bail and that no further evidence could be presented.
Shehbaz’s counsel stated that a witness on page 2 of volume 6 did not provide the statement mentioned in the challan.
FIA Prosecutor Farooq Bajwa said he seeks to conclude his arguments.
The court asked the FIA if bankers were called as witnesses in the investigation, and the FIA prosecutor said that they were not.
He said: “I would not state anything that is not a part of the records. The entire matter has been presented to the court.”
“I will speak in accordance with the law, I will not simply oppose him as a prosecutor,” said Bajwa. “When the FIA made this case, there was no direct investigation.”
The FIA prosecutor added: “I would not engage in such trickery for which I have no explanation.”
He said that “these are political figures”, and that “such is the evidence collected when such cases are opened”.
“Two cheques dated 2015 and 2013 were deposited into Gulzar’s account,” said the FIA prosecutor elaborating on “evidence” found.
He said that it is rare for the challan to appear while the bail period has not ended.
Bajwa said that the FIA’s evidence was “not ill intentioned” and that as much evidence as possible was collected in the case.
According to him, suspects Masroor Anwar and Usman were not interrogated.
To this, Pervez said: “The case has been ongoing for more than a year and now we discover that the suspects were not made part of the inquiry.”
“All this has to be disclosed in the initial hearing,” he added.
The FIA prosecutor responded by saying that that two cheques had been deposited into suspect Gulzar’s account, which is direct evidence.
“So how is this illegal?” the court asked the FIA prosecutor, to which his response was: “This is something that even the other respondents cannot comment on. No one knows how the cheques were deposited.”
Pervez said that it must then be examined if depositing a cheque constitutes a crime. “What the FIA is saying does not constitute a crime,” he said.
The counsels for both the defense and the prosecution submitted their written arguments to the court.
It is pertinent to mention here that the special court in Lahore had summoned the father-son duo for their indictment in the case in April but it was deferred due to the premier’s foreign engagements.
The FIA had in December 2021 submitted the challan against Shehbaz and Hamza to a special court for their alleged involvement in laundering an amount of Rs16bn in the sugar scam case.
“The investigation team has detected 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3bn was committed during 2008-18. The FIA examined the money trail of 17,000 credit transactions,” according to an FIA report submitted to the court.
The amount was kept in “hidden accounts” and given to Shehbaz in a personal capacity, the report added.
This amount (Rs16bn) has nothing to do with the sugar business (of the Shehbaz family), it claimed. The money received from the accounts of low-wage employees by Shehbaz was transferred outside Pakistan via hundi/hawala networks, ultimately destined for the beneficial use of his family members, the FIA had alleged.
“Eleven low-paid employees of the Sharif group who ‘held and possessed’ the laundered proceeds on behalf of the principal accused, are found guilty of facilitating money laundering. The three other co-accused of the Sharif group also actively facilitated the money laundering,” the agency had said.