Saturday, June 11, 2022
LAHORE: A special court hearing the Rs16 billion money laundering case filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son, Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz, on Saturday granted the two pre-arrest bail.
PM Shehbaz and Hamza have been asked to pay Rs1 million in bail bonds each within seven days.
Bail requests of other suspects were also granted, with the court ordering them to pay Rs200,000 in bail bonds within seven days.
PM Shehbaz and Hamza were summoned to Special Court (Central-I) today for questioning.
Earlier in the day, the court reserved its verdict on all requests for bail, including those by PM Shehbaz and Hamza.
PM Shehbaz, addressing the court, stated: "I am obliged to inform the court of the truth regarding my bail."
He said that the case by the FIA is identical to that being pursued by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
"The cases against me pertain to the Ashiana [Housing Scheme] and Ramzan Sugar Mills," said Shehbaz.
"You have no ownership of them?" asked the judge.
"I have no stake in either," PM Shehbaz responded.
Speaking of NAB's investigation against him, he said that the bureau moved the Supreme Court against him, despite the fact that the Lahore High Court had issued a detailed verdict in the case.
He said that the then chief justice had asked for proof of corruption against him after which NAB "panicked and fled".
PM Shehbaz, speaking of FIA's probe, went on to state: "The FIA visited me twice when I was in NAB detention, but I refused to answer without my attorney's input."
He said the FIA was provided with all the facts verbally. "My cases were decided on their merit, and I emerged clean," he remarked.
The premier added that a man's honour is his greatest asset and that "severe" allegations have been made against him.
"I faced countless hearings and trials. The FIA was admonished for not presenting a challan. I believe the FIA was preparing for an arrest, hence the challan was delayed," he added.
He reiterated that he is neither a director nor a stakeholder of the Ramzan Sugar Mills.
PM Shehbaz continued: "[All this] harmed the family's sugar mills. Why would I engage in corruption and money laundering and harm the family business?"
He added that he "had the legal right to grant the business a subsidy" during his term as chief minister.
"The entire case is built on lies and will be buried," PM Shehbaz said.
For his part, PM Shehbaz's attorney Amjad Pervez stated that the fact that Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz had previously been interrogated in jail by the FIA was sufficient proof for their bail and that no further evidence could be presented.
Shehbaz's counsel stated that a witness on page 2 of volume 6 did not provide the statement mentioned in the challan.
FIA Prosecutor Farooq Bajwa said he seeks to conclude his arguments.
The court asked the FIA if bankers were called as witnesses in the investigation, and the FIA prosecutor said that they were not.
He said: "I would not state anything that is not a part of the records. The entire matter has been presented to the court."
"I will speak in accordance with the law, I will not simply oppose [the defendant] as a prosecutor," said Bajwa, adding: "I would not engage in such trickery for which I have no explanation."
"Two cheques dated 2015 and 2013 were deposited into Gulzar's account," said the FIA prosecutor elaborating on the "evidence" found.
He said that "these are political figures", and that "such is the evidence collected when such cases are opened".
Bajwa said that the FIA's evidence was "not ill intentioned" and that as much evidence as possible was collected in the case.
According to him, suspects Masroor Anwar and Usman were not interrogated.
To this, Pervez said: "The case has been ongoing for more than a year and now we discover that the suspects were not made part of the inquiry."
"All this has to be disclosed in the initial hearing," he added.
The FIA prosecutor responded by saying that that two cheques had been deposited into suspect Gulzar's account, which is direct evidence.
"So how is this illegal?" the court asked the FIA prosecutor, to which his response was: "This is something that even the other respondents cannot comment on. No one knows how the cheques were deposited."
Pervez said that it must then be examined if depositing a cheque constitutes a crime. "What the FIA is saying does not constitute a crime," he said.
The counsels for both the defense and the prosecution submitted their written arguments to the court.
It is pertinent to mention here that the special court in Lahore had summoned the father-son duo for their indictment in the case in April but it was deferred due to the premier's foreign engagements.
In December 2021, the FIA had submitted a challan against Shehbaz and Hamza to the special court for their alleged involvement in laundering Rs16 billion in a sugar scam.
According to the FIA report submitted to the court, the investigation team "detected 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3bn was committed from 2008-18. The FIA examined a money trail of 17,000 credit transactions."
The report added that the amount was kept in "hidden accounts" and "given to Shehbaz in a personal capacity".
This amount (Rs16 billion) has nothing to do with the sugar business (of Shehbaz's family), it claimed. The money allegedly received from the accounts of low-wage employees was transferred outside Pakistan via hundi/hawala networks, ultimately destined for the beneficial use of his family members, the FIA had said.
"Eleven low-paid employees of the Sharif group who 'held and possessed' the laundered proceeds on behalf of the principal accused, are found guilty of facilitating money laundering. The three other co-accused of the Sharif group also actively facilitated the money laundering," the agency had said.