Wednesday Jan 26, 2022
LONDON: The Westminster Magistrates’ Court has ruled that the National Crime Agency’s full file into Shehbaz Sharif and Suleman Sharif’s money-laundering investigation can be released to the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) of Pakistan.
District Judge Godfrey has ruled on an application by the ARU at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court that it needs access to the full file of NCA’s money-laundering investigation into Shehbaz Sharif and others after an exclusive report in The News had revealed that NCA dropped a high-profile investigation into Shehbaz and his son after finding no evidence of money-laundering, criminal conduct and misuse of public office.
The full file, when released soon, will further corroborate the story published on Geo News.
District Judge Godfrey ruled that it was in the interest of open justice that the full file should be released as The News had already published parts of it and some of its contents were already in the public domain and also that the several court hearings that took place, as the investigation went on, were not in private.
The News report had revealed that ARU was involved in extensive cooperation with NCA’s investigators several months prior to the start of the investigation in December 2019 and up to the closure of the case in November 2021.
The judge has ruled that it was reasonable to release the full NCA file but the judge ordered that Sharifs, Zulfikar Ahmed, and NCA had the right to redact parts of the files that carry personal information. It’s understood that the full case file will be released soon when Sharifs’ lawyer and the NCA have agreed on redactions.
In his application Barrister Zia Nasim, the ARU’s Counsel and Legal Expert at Assets Recovery Unit PM Office in Islamabad, told the court that the ARU intends to file a complaint against this reporter at Ofcom “in light of serious misreporting/ broadcast of important facts by the journalist”.
The ARU application said: “However, to assess the merits of any such complaint, it is essential to have access to the documents submitted by the NCA in court, to which the journalist has referred to during the broadcast and report.”
The court notified the NCA, Shehbaz Sharif and Suleman’s lawyer as well as their friend Zulfikar Ahmed about the ARU’s application and asked them to make representations.
At least three hearings at the district court have been held so far where Sharif’s lawyer and Zulfikar Ahmed objected to the release of the full report, arguing that the full file contains several hundred pages and carries personal information of the respondents which is not related to the investigation itself and ARU should not get personal details of Sharifs as these will be used for political victimisation.
They alleged that the ARU needed access to the UK inquiry to utilise this information for its own objectives. Zulfikar Ahmed said that he was a non-political person and he would not like his business and family details to be out in the public.
This correspondent represented himself in person and informed the district judge that The News report was based only on six pages of the total bundle of hundreds of pages and it was inexplicable why the ARU needs access to the full file when it can file a case based on the reported facts which were in the public domain. This correspondent argued that should the court decide to release the full file to ARU then he should be able to get the same file to contest the ARU’s legal case in the UK.
The NCA said it will stay neutral in the matter and will go by what the court decides. Barrister Zia Nasim argued that the ARU should be given the full file because “it is an interested party” and “ARU’s letter of 11th December 2019 addressed to the NCA was presented to Court and has been referred to by the journalist and the respondents during press conferences” and that Shahbaz Sharif on 29th September 2021 readout from the court document entitled ‘Grounds of Suspicion’ at a press conference.
Barrister Zia Nasim also revealed that the NCA was in touch with ARU on December 7 2019 about Shehbaz Sharif and Suleman case — prior to NCA's David Scruton holding a meeting with a NAB senior officer in London and around two weeks before the NCA formally applied to freeze the accounts. He relied on the principles relating to AFOs set out in the recent decision of the Divisional Court in Javadov v Westminster Magistrates Court and R (Guardian News and Media Ltd) v City of Westminster Magistrates Court where the court decided to release the files.
The judge also ordered that a copy of the redacted final file should also be provided to this correspondent and Mr. Martin Bentham, Home Affairs Editor of the Evening Standard.
Originally published in The News