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Saturday Dec 07 2019

Did Shehbaz Sharif employ money launderers at the CM Punjab office?

hFormer Punjab CM Shehbaz Sharif. Photo: File

ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar had on Thursday alleged that former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, operating through front-men, was involved in mega corruption scandals worth billions of rupees.

In a press conference held in Islamabad, Akbar had claimed that the assets of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) chief had grown by 70 percent during the last 10 years. Sharif was the chief executive in Punjab from June 2008 till June 2018. 

Shahzad Akbar pointed out that three employees of a company named GNC, owned by the former chief minister, were found involved in running a multi-billion rupee money laundering network, and were working for Sharif at the CM Secretariat on different posts.

Independent sources familiar with the developments have now confirmed that two of these suspicious characters — identified as Imtiaz Gill and Ali Ahmad — were indeed employed by Sharif as his staff members, but the duo were more famous for their association with Suleman Shehbaz. 

Suleman is the younger son of Shehbaz Sharif. According to sources, Gill and Ahmad were given titles — Director Political Affairs and Director Strategy — but were not part of the hardcore bureaucratic team of the Chief Minister Secretariat. 

These two people had no office in the CM Secretariat and rarely had interactions with the Secretariat bureaucracy. However, the two were mostly seen in the private office of Suleman Shehbaz at 55H Model Town. They were also found in the Model Town Office of Sharif. 

These two people were generally referred to as the class fellows and friends of Suleman Shehbaz, sources claim. They were appointed as directors on meager salaries, probably Rs30,000 a month each, but were not doing any official work associated with the CM Secretariat.

At that time, the bureaucracy working in the CM Secretariat had no idea what Gill and Ahmad were actually doing. There was a general perception that the two were favoured by Suleman Shehbaz because of his past association with them.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government has alleged that these two people were key characters involved in money laundering operations carried out on behalf of Shehbaz Sharif and his family. The key question is: Why were they employed by Shehbaz Sharif?

Special Assistant to the PM on Accountability Shahzad Akbar has also called on the National Accountability Bureau to probe the Good Nature Trading Company (GNC) under which billions were laundered through some 200 telegraphic transfers. 

Nisar Gill is also alleged to have visited some foreign countries along with Suleman Shehbaz. The government alleged that the two had transferred huge amounts in the accounts of the Shehbaz Sharif family, and were actually just front-men for the Sharif household. 

Independent sources believe that the money laundering case involving GNC appears to be the most serious among all cases presently being pursued by the NAB against the former Punjab chief minister and members of his family.

In this particular case, the government has yet to find any evidence whether money involved in laundering had anything to do with kickbacks, commissions and corruption, or was just the consequence of a general tax-avoidance practice used by big businessmen in Pakistan.

However, the case may really haunt the Sharif family because of the evidence regarding dubious remittances received by different members of the Sharif family, and also because of the fact that two people used for the alleged money laundering were employed by the former CM. 

Originally published in The News