Lahore court acquits Shehbaz, Hamza in money laundering case

  • FIA tells court no direct transaction made in bank accounts of PM, his son
  • Shehbaz, two sons booked in Nov 2020 under Anti-Money Laundering Act.

LAHORE: A special court on Wednesday exonerated Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz from Rs16 billion money laundering case registered by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Special Judge (Central-1) Ijaz Hassan Awan announced the short verdict reserved earlier in the day after hearing detailed arguments of Advocate Amjad Pervaiz, who represented PM Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz, and FIA prosecution.

Both the prime minister and Hamza Shehbaz did not appear before the court on Wednesday and a legal team submitted separate applications for their exemption from personal appearance for one-day. The court was requested to exempt the prime minister and his son as the premier could not appear due to his official engagements whereas Hamza Shehbaz had back pain.

During the proceedings, Advocate Amjad Pervaiz stated that the written arguments had also been submitted in the court. He submitted that no prosecution witness had given the name of Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz, adding that the investigation officer attempted to distort the statements of the witnesses.

During hearing, the FIA had told the court that no direct transaction had been made in the bank accounts of PM Shehbaz and his son from benami (unnamed) accounts.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had booked Shehbaz and his two sons, Hamza and Suleman, in November 2020 under Sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 34 and 109 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, read with Section 3/4 of Anti-Money Laundering Act.

Suleman had been declared a proclaimed offender by the court for his constant absence in the trial proceedings.

Amjad Pervaiz submitted that the case was made on the basis of malafide intention, adding that no amount was transferred in the accounts of Shehbaz Sharif or Hamza Shehbaz. He further submitted that as per the law, the prosecution had to prove its case, whereas the prosecution could not present any evidence on the charge of bribery.

The defence counsel submitted that he had never seen such a case in his career where the prosecution was contesting the case without evidence.

However, FIA Prosecutor Farooq Bajwa submitted that accused Masroor Anwar used to operate the account of Shehbaz Sharif. Amjad Pervaiz submitted that it was against the facts as Masroor Anwar never operated the account of Shehbaz Sharif.

The FIA prosecutor submitted that all benami accounts were operated by employees of Ramzan Sugar Mills. The defence counsel replied that the record of the case had been compiled during previous government tenure.

The FIA prosecutor submitted that Gulzar Ahmad’s account continued to be operated even after his death, adding that Masroor Anwar made transactions from accounts of Shehbaz Sharif and Gulzar Ahmad.

At this, the court questioned the FIA prosecutor whether he had any evidence or record in this regard.

To which, the prosecutor replied that there was no evidence of this on record.

Subsequently, the court, after hearing detailed arguments of the parties, reserved its verdict on the acquittal applications, which would be announced later.

THE CASE

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 Rs16 billion in the sugar scam case.

“The investigation team has detected 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3 billion 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 (Rs16b) 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.

TWITTER ABUZZ WITH CELEBRATORY COMMENTS

Taking to Twitter, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif thanked God for victory in the “false, baseless, and political revenge-based case of money laundering”. “We stand vindicated in front of the court, law and nation today,” he added.

Former Punjab chief minister and PM’s son Hamza also tweeted that the “truth has emerged victorious” today, recalling that he was detained in the “political case” for 22 years.

PML-N leader Talal Chaudhry, in an interview with DawnNewsTV, called the verdict “PML-N’s victory”, saying that “such fake cases were bound to be exposed one day”.

“Today is a day of victory and reflection,” he added.

Meanwhile, the PML-N, in a tweet on its official Twitter account, said: “Another fabricated case created for political victimisation comes to its inevitable end.”

PTI Reaction To Acquittal

PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that the verdict passed today was a “slap on the nation’s face”.

“On one hand, [they] are seeking funds for flood victims. On the other hand, one family has looted billions of rupees,” Fawad said, going on that the laundered money belonged to the people of the country.

Former human rights minister Shireen Mazari said that the court’s decision was a “shameful reflection on us”. “Within 6 months white collar criminals [have been] whitewashed after being brought to power through US regime conspiracy abetted by local conspirators.”

She added that the “latest whitewashing” and accountability amendments had proven that “all that is left to whitewash is the mafia head and absconder sitting in London”.

PTI leader Asad Umar said that with the fall of the state everyone was getting acquitted, “but not respectfully”.

 

 

 

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