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Thursday Jun 25 2020

Can Suleman Shehbaz be extradited by NAB from London to Pakistan?

Since coming into power two years ago, the ruling PTI's ministers have made several high-octane announcements to bring back former finance minister Ishaq Dar, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif's sons, Hasan and Hussain Nawaz, Suleman Shehbaz, and several others. —

LONDON: Legal experts said Thursday it would be practically difficult for Pakistan to actually extradite PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif’s son, Suleman, from the UK due to a number of reasons.

The legal experts' comments came after Pakistan's anti-graft watchdog, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), said it would contact the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) and the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) in this regard.

Since coming into power two years ago, the ruling PTI's ministers have made several high-octane announcements to bring back former finance minister Ishaq Dar, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif's sons, Hasan and Hussain Nawaz, Suleman Shehbaz, and several others.

However, there has been little to no progress beyond writing letters to the Interpol and the UK Home Office before the issue completely slips off the radar — until the next announcement.

According to a NAB spokesperson, non-bailable arrest warrants have been issued for Suleman, who is declared a fugitive by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in a Rs85 billion money laundering case that allegedly involved both him and Hamza Shehbaz.

Suleman has previously rejected the charges as baseless and frivolous allegations by the PTI government, saying Prime Minister Imran Khan still had questions to answer about his own “unexplained assets worth Rs4 billion".

He maintained that he brought his money from abroad into Pakistan for investment — which he claimed was not money-laundering — and that each and everything he owned in his motherland has been declared with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

In December last year, the anti-corruption body issued orders to freeze 23 properties belonging to Shehbaz, the former chief minister of Punjab, and his sons, Hamza and Suleman, over the allegation that they acquired assets beyond means and engaged in money laundering.

Barrister Moeen Khan, a leading criminal and extradition lawyer, said the case against Suleman did not meet the required threshold for British courts to allow extradition as a money laundering allegation was "weak".

Khan explained that from what has been said in press conferences so far, the Pakistani ministers have not established any corruption. If there is any wrongdoing, they should take the matter to the courts in Pakistan and let the facts get established through a fair trial, he added.

"In the absence of any charges and trial and exhaustion of all legal remedies, there are zero chances of the UK government doing anything against Suleman, or for that matter anyone else," the barrister noted.

"For extradition applications to succeed, there have to be seriously strong grounds and the whole process takes years in courts," he said, adding that there were questions as to why the authorities did not charge Suleman for over two years.

In response to Geo News' request for comment on what Suleman's defence would be if the PTI government approached the Interpol, a member of his legal team explained that the former chief minister's son had made complete declarations in his records with the FBR and that all transaction had been approved by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

The government accepted that all payments were through legal banking channels and everything was as per law, the lawyer said, adding that the FBR had found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

A source said Suleman has been investigated for the past two years and every kind of state resource was used to do so; however, there was no allegation of corruption, corrupt practices, and kickbacks.

Khan, the lawyer, said the money Suleman brought from abroad was in accordance with the laws of the land and there was no question of money laundering in doing something legally protected. The PML-N president's son had never held any political position, assumed a public office or ran for the Parliament, he said.

The lawyer said the NAB’s main mandate was to investigate cases related to corruption in the public domain and losses to the public exchequer but, in this case, it was Suleman's private businesses inherited from his grandfather.

He said Suleman’s businesses had nothing to do with the state or its finances and the allegations being made against him were for media consumption and a political witch-hunt.

The legal source commented that it was telling in itself that the anti-graft watchdog had not framed any charges or filed references against Suleman because there was no allegation about corruption and kickbacks until today.

The legal source added the government was running a media trial of Suleman for political reasons.

NAB, on the other hand, has maintained that it plans to root out all forms of corruption and will go after everyone suspected to be involved in corrupt practices. It added that it investigates cases on merit and does not get involved in politics.

It has also claimed to have recovered tens of millions of rupees and deposited them for the Pakistani state.

PM Imran's aid on accountability, Shahzad Akbar, has addressed several press conferences related to Suleman, accusing the latter of involvement in money laundering through telegraphic transfers (TTs) and servants.

Akbar has also challenged the former Punjab chief minister's son to return to Pakistan and appear in the courts to clear his name.