Sharif, son reject money laundering claim, tell court ‘devoted to public service’

LAHORE: The prime minister rejected allegations of graft levelled against him and said he always put personal interests behind him to selflessly devote himself to public service, as he testified in a special court hearing the Rs16 billion money laundering case against Shehbaz Sharif and members of his family.

He said these remarks during the hearing of the case in an accountability court in Lahore on Saturday. Special Court (Central-I) judge Ijaz Hassan Awan chaired the proceedings wherein his son and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz also appeared.

Sharif and his family are facing charges of money laundering of billions of rupees using accounts operated in the name of their businesses and employees, according to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

During the hearing, Sharif went to the rostrum and told the court he never committed corruption of even a penny. He said he even used to buy petrol from his own pocket to fill up his vehicles’ tanks.

“I used to buy air tickets even from my own pocket whenever I would go on official tours,” he said, adding he left no stone unturned in the service of the people of Punjab.

He wondered how whimsical were the corruption charges on a man who never claimed his own salaries and other fringe benefits.

He told the court he was accused of giving a Rs14 million cheque. While on the other hand, “I even did not take even a penny from the exchequer in the form of salary or TA and DA [travelling allowance and dearness allowance],” he said.

He also said he had relinquished his legal right estimating around Rs70-80 million under the head of his salaries.

“My case is not worth more than Rs0.5 million as I had not withdrawn more money than this in the shape of my salaries,” he told the court.

The prime minister told the court while he was serving as the Punjab chief minister between 2008 and 2018, he had got a summary seeking approval of Rs15 per kilogramme subsidy on sugar production to increase its export.

“But I rejected the summary and this decision of mine harmed my family’s economic interests which owned sugar mills to the tune of Rs2 billion.”

He said he was not boasting about his inherent goodness in the court, but he wanted to inform the court why would he be committing corruption of this petty amount.

He further said he did not impose excise duty on the ethanol which is used in the sugar production despite the fact that his son was setting up an ethanol plant. This decision robbed my family of Rs80 million in potential benefits, he added.

After this, Sharif and Shehbaz left the court after requesting it to let them go.

The reference mainly accused Sharif of being a beneficiary of assets held in the name of his family members and benamidars (frontmen), who had no sources to acquire such assets.

It said the family members and frontmen of the Shehbaz family received fake foreign remittances of billions in their personal bank accounts. In addition to these remittances, the bureau said, billions of rupees were laundered by way of foreign pay orders, which were deposited in the personal bank accounts of Hamza and his brother Suleman Shehbaz.

The reference further said that the family of Shehbaz failed to justify the sources of funds used for the acquisition of assets.

It said the suspects committed offences of corruption and corrupt practices as envisaged under the provisions of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, and money laundering as delineated in the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010. It asked the trial court to try the suspects and punish them under the law.

Later, talking to the media, Sharif said he took the decision to raise the petrol prices with a heavy heart.

He said he was aware that people were already crushed under the burden of sky-rocketing inflation. People cannot afford one square meal or bear their medical expenses, he said, adding it was the reason he announced a relief package of Rs28 billion under which 15 million deserving people would be given an Rs2,000 subsidy on petrol.

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