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Money laundering case fabricated, false, Shehbaz tells court

LAHORE: Presiding judge of Special Court (Central-I) Ijaz Hassan Awan on Saturday extended the interim bails of PM Shehbaz Sharif and his son CM Hamza Shebaz till June 4 in Rs16 billion money-laundering case.

The court also permitted them to leave the court, saying the hearing could proceed without their presence. The court adjourned the hearing till June 4, directing Hamza’s lawyer to present his arguments at the next hearing.

On Saturday during case proceedings, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif termed the Rs16 billion money laundering case against him and his family “false.” He told the court he refused to receive any salary or benefits when he was chief minister of Punjab and dubbed himself a “majnoo”.

Shehbaz Sharif said the case against him was “false”. “I have not taken anything from the government in 12.5 years,” he said, adding that he used to get the government car in his use refuelled from his own pocket.

“God has made me the prime minister of this country. I am a majnoo. I did not take my legal right, I did not take salary and benefits.”

He recalled that the secretary had sent a summary to him for sugar export during his tenure as Punjab chief minister, adding that he had set an export limit and rejected summaries.

“My family lost Rs2bn because of my decision. I am telling you the reality. When my son’s ethanol production plant was being set up, I still decided to impose a duty on ethanol. My family lost Rs800 million annually because of that decision. The previous government withdrew that notification stating that it was injustice with the sugar mills.”

Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz was also in court during the hearing of the case filed against them and their family by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

When the hearing resumed, the judge pointed out to FIA prosecutor Farooq Bajwa the “contradictory statements” in the agency’s report regarding the arrest of Shehbaz’s son, Suleman Shehbaz, and other suspects.

The court said: “on one hand, the report says that D-41, Model Town, is not an address. On the other, it also says the suspect Suleman Shehbaz is abroad.” Bajwa responded that the address did exist but the suspect could not be found at that location.

“It is the fault of the person who wrote [the report]. He wanted to say the suspect was not present at that location.”

The judge noted that the report also failed to mention other routine details on Suleman and another suspect Tahir Naqvi.

The FIA prosecutor said the agency would re-issue the arrest warrants and submit a fresh report to the court.

Judge Awan then noted that another suspect, Ghulam Shabbar, had passed away, to which Bajwa replied that the suspect’s death certificate was a year old and the inquiry had started prior to his death.

He said he would submit a detailed response.

The judge asked the investigation officer to inform the court about the extent of the investigation conducted with regard to Shabbar. “Apparently, this challan will have to be re-submitted.”

Meanwhile, Shehbaz and Hamza’s counsel, Mohammad Amjad Pervaiz, argued that the facts in the challan were incorrect. “This case was mala fide because it was politically motivated. The law says if there are 10 cases against someone, he cannot be arrested separately for each.”

Subsequently, the judge gave Shehbaz and Hamza permission to leave, saying the hearing could proceed without their presence.

Shehbaz’s counsel, Pervaiz, argued that the prime minister did not have any connection to the accounts mentioned in the FIA report.

“It is the prosecution’s job to prove [his connection] to the benami accounts. The FIA has been unable to bring forth even one statement in 10 years that Shehbaz has any connection to these accounts.”

The defence did not yet know whether the prosecution witness statements in the case were true, he said, adding that according to those statements, the accounts were opened for Suleman.

“The witnesses do not say these accounts were Shehbaz’s. Mushtaq Cheeni also opened accounts but no FIR was registered against him.”

He claimed that no case was ever registered against Mushtaq because he had never been a public office holder.

The counsel further said the form for opening the bank account nowhere mentioned that it was for PM Shehbaz.

At that, the court asked whether the challan had any mention of Chaudhry Sugar Mills, which the Sharif family owns.

The counsel replied that the challan mentioned Chaudhry Sugar Mills, as well as Al-Arabia Sugar Mills, which is owned by PM Shehbaz’s son, Salman.

He went on to say that the FIA had told “tales in the challan, with which no evidence has been attached”.

Moreover, “FIA recorded the statements of many people, but it neither made them witnesses nor suspects”, the lawyer added.

He said Muhammad Maqsood had been accused of making a transaction worth Rs3.4 billion. “[But] any of his accounts, except for his salary account, was not on the letter pad of Ramzan Sugar Mills.”

“Ninety-eight per cent of transactions in his account were not made in cash but via transfer enteries,” the counsel said, adding that no money was ever transferred to PM Shehbaz from Maqsood’s account.

“According to records, Muhammad Maqsood used to file his returns and if we consider him a benami [holder], then it would have to been seen that under which law it is a crime,” the counsel argued.

He added that Maqsood was not a public office holder, and “look at this case in any way, if his association is established with Shehbaz Sharif, I will recuse myself from this case”.

The lawyer alleged that the FIA’s investigating team had built the case while “sitting in a room”, adding that all 64 witnesses in the case had spoken about the “usual market practice”.

“The FIA should have investigated every entry. They talk about Rs4 billion but according to records, Rs50 million was transferred to Maqsood’s account,” he said, adding that “issuing a cheque for a third party was a usual practice”.

Following that, the court directed the FIA’s counsel to remove flaws from the challan, pointing out that the suspects’ names in there were not accompanied by their father’s names.

“The FIA was in a hurry to submit the challan. It submitted it with the flaws,” the court remarked.

The court adjourned the hearing after extending the interim bail of PM Shehbaz and Hamza till June 4 and directing Hamza’s lawyer to present his arguments at the next hearing.

CHARGES AGAINST HAMZA, SHEHBAZ

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.

 

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