Monday, March 14, 2022
LONDON: The UK National Crime Agency (NCA) obtained production orders from the Southwark Crown Court to get access to former Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Barclays bank account during the course of a high-profile money-laundering investigation, exclusive new evidence shows.
New evidence available to this reporter – not released last month in the full court bundle on order by the Westminster Magistrates’ Court – shows that the NCA applied to the Southwark Crown Court and the court issued the production order under Section 345 (1) of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002 on November 3, 2020 for a money-laundering investigation into Shehbaz Sharif in relation to his mortgage dealings with millionaire PTI UK leader and donor Aneel Mussarat.
The production order carried the warning that failure to comply with this order is a contempt of court, punishable with a fine or two years’ imprisonment, or both. The court allowed the NCA investigators to probe Shehbaz Sharif’s financial conduct dating back 15 years. The Southwark Crown Court allowed the NCA to gain access to all bank statements, mortgage agreements, and financial transactions related to the purchase of Flat 2, 30, Upper Berkley Street for £160,000 and other bank loans by Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif in May 2005 – with help from PTI UK leader and donor Aneel Mussarat through a loan agreement.
Pakistan’s former accountability head Shahzad Akbar claimed on September 28, 2021, that Geo News aired false news and that Shehbaz Sharif’s name was not in the Assets Freezing Orders of Westminster Magistrates’ Court and therefore the investigation was not about him, but since then, the UK court papers have confirmed that the news was correct and that the whole money-laundering investigation was centred around Shehbaz Sharif and his family.
The Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) in October 2021 applied to Westminster Magistrates’ Court seeking access to the full bundle on the basis that it wanted to take legal action against this correspondent for publishing false news. The court held four hearings and then ordered the release of the bundle. The NCA gave the court only about 600 pages, while the full investigation bundle consists of over 1200 pages.
The production order allowed the NCA to get access to "mortgage/loan acquired by Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif in July 2007 secured against Flat 2, 30 Upper Berkeley Street, London, W1H 5QE and Flat 10 Richbourne Court, 9 Harrowby Street, W1H 5PT; mortgage/loan application form and associated correspondence with Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and his representatives; KYC or due diligence conducted in relation to these mortgage/ loan applications; schedule of repayments for both mortgage/loan repayments for both mortgage/loan products from the time the product was acquired through to final repayment; and source of funds used for repayments of both mortgage/ loan products (to include origin account details) from the time the product was acquired through to final repayment."
This correspondent has also obtained the 16-page application the NCA made to the Southwark Crown Court seeking the production orders.
The NCA officer told the court: "I gave the affected party, Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, notice via his legal representatives of this application in the prescribed form on 14/10/2020" and also "I gave the respondent, Barclays Bank PLC, other informal notice of this application on 21/09/2020" and they "did not wish to oppose this application or make representations."
The NCA told the court it had frozen four accounts and "these accounts are held in the name of, or associated with, Shehbaz Sharif" and his son, Suleman Sharif.
The NCA application said: "The application for a production order is in relation to funds that were subjected to a twelve month Account Freezing Orders (AFOs) granted on the 17th December 2019 at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court by District Judge Ikram. These funds, totalling GBP £677,307.14, are held across four bank accounts with HSBC, RBS and Barclays" and "Suleman Sharif is the named holder of the accounts with HSBC and Barclays, and along with Shehbaz Sharif, is assessed to control the fund".
The NCA application to the South London court said: "I suspect the remaining balance of the frozen funds to be recoverable property or intended by any person for use in unlawful conduct." Specifically, that it is derived from the alleged criminal conduct and money laundering activities of Shehbaz Sharif and Suleman Sharif".
The NCA application said: "The purpose of this investigation is to determine if the frozen funds consist, in part or full, of recoverable property. This application relates to a specific portion of the frozen funds, namely the balance of the GBP 315,000 derived from the sale proceeds of Flat 2, 30 Upper Berkeley Street, London, W1H 5QE. I believe this material will be of substantial value to the investigation. Without it, the case team would not be able to determine the true source of the frozen funds. This material will assist the investigation in determining whether the funds held are, all or in part, recoverable property. If the source of funds is demonstrated to be derived from criminal conduct as per the point below, this will assist the case team in calculating what portion of the sale proceeds could be considered recoverable property."
The NCA told the court: "This frozen funds investigation is in relation to a substantial amount of suspected illicit finance and criminal assets in the United Kingdom. Criminal finances being kept in the United Kingdom is serious in nature and has a real risk of damaging the UK’s reputation and the public’s general trust in the financial services sector. The respondents hold the material from the course of their business relationship with Shehbaz Sharif. They hold it in confidence and have confirmed that they require Customer Consent or a Production Order in order to supply this information."
When asked by the court to make representations on behalf of Shehbaz Sharif, Suleman Shehbaz Sharif objected to the further material being sought by the NCA.
According to the evidence, he told the court that "whilst the NCA says that Mr Miah Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif is the affected party, it is actually I, Suleman Shehbaz Sharif, who is also an affected party, and I wish to make representations against the application for a production order sought by John..... ….. of the NCA. This is because the funds in my bank accounts are subject to an accounts Freezing Order".
Suleman Shehbaz Sharif told the judge: "I wish to bring to your attention that my father, Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, and I have fully cooperated with NCA by providing each and every document requested, providing explanations for each and every deposit in my bank account, and giving consent that NCA has requested, which is admitted by NCA in the application for Production Order."
Suleman Shehbaz told the court that the NCA has gone to great lengths "to make a case which is based on fabricated and politically motivated inquiries initiated by the Pakistani investigating agencies, namely NAB and ARU, by submitting one-sided documents."
Suleman told the court that he had already provided full evidence to the NCA related to the purchase of two flats by Shehbaz Sharif. He said Flat 2, 30 Upper Berkeley Street, London W1H 5QE (the first property) was purchased by Shehbaz Sharif in June 2005, while he was in exile (from 2000 to 2007) and sold in October 2018; part of the sale proceeds (£315,000) were sent to his bank account and is now subject to the AFO.
He said the first property was purchased for £235,000 with a commercial loan from Barclays Bank of £160,000 and the remaining balance from PTI UK’s senior leader and Imran Khan’s friend, Aneel Mussarat.
"It should be noted that a complete conveyancing file on the purchase was submitted to NCA, which contained every document and money trail of every transaction. A consent order was also given by my father to NCA to obtain information on how this loan was obtained,"he said.
Suleman told the court: "The current application is merely a fishing exercise and clearly an attempt to prolong their investigation so that they can find grounds to apply for an extension when the current AFO expires on December 17, 2020." NCA has had nearly one year to investigate, and we have operated fully with their inquiry." He told the court that the NCA was involved in a fishing expedition it had made a case "which is based on fabricated and politically motivated inquiries initiated by the Pakistani authorities".
The NCA investigated Shehbaz Sharif, his son Suleman, and Zulfikar Ahmed for two years and then closed the investigation after finding no evidence of criminality, money-laundering, fraud, or misuse of public office – giving a clean chit to the former Punjab chief minister.
Originally published in The News