PM Shehbaz, Hamza acquitted in Rs16bn money laundering case

Lahore special court acquits father-son duo after FIA fails to produce "concrete evidence"

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Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (L) and former chief minister Punjab Hamza Shahbaz. — AFP/File
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (L) and former chief minister Punjab Hamza Shahbaz. — AFP/File

  • FIA still insists that case should proceed against PM Shehbaz, Hamza.
  • However, court says FIA failed to produce "concrete evidence".
  • FIA submitted challan against Hamza, PM Shehbaz in December 2021.

LAHORE: The Special Court, Central, Wednesday acquitted Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz in the Rs16 billion money laundering case lodged against them by the Federal Investigation Agency.

The court announced its judgment in the mega money laundering case against the Shehbaz family after the FIA prosecutor informed the court that no money was directly deposited in the accounts of the father-son duo.

The father-son duo — who were summoned today — did not appear before the court as their counsel filed a request for exemption as PM Shehbaz had official engagements and Hamza was not well.

The court acquitted the prime minister and his son after the FIA — last week — had cleared the PML-N leaders on the charges of laundering Rs16 billion as there was "no direct evidence" against the father-son duo.

During today's hearing, FIA prosecutor Farooq Bajwa opposed acquitting the suspects, saying that Hamza and Shehbaz are allegedly involved in the Rs16 billion money laundering case.

"We want this case to proceed. The case should go on till the suspects have been indicted," the prosecutor urged.

However, Special Court Judge Ejaz Awan noted that the FIA has failed to produce "concrete evidence" in the challan submitted before the court against the suspects. Following this, the court acquitted the suspects. 

In the previous hearing on Tuesday, the judge asked about the number of bank accounts owned by the Malik Maqsood — also known as Maqsood Chaprasi.

The FIA prosecutor Farooq Bajwa responded that late Maqsood had eight bank accounts to his name.

The prosecutor further stated that no money was either directly deposited or withdrawn from the accounts of the suspects, including Shehbaz and Hamza.

The judge asked what evidence was there to substantiate that the entire money dealing was being done at Hamza’s behest.

In response, FIA's prosecutor said the agency does not have "any evidence" linking him to money laundering.

'Fake, baseless, based on political vengeance'

After the verdict's announcement, the prime minister thanked God for his acquittal and termed the case against him "fake, baseless, and based on political vengeance".

"No matter how much I thank God enough for this, it won't be enough," he said in a tweet.

PM Shehbaz said that "despite the worst practices, use of state force, and holding institutions hostage," he still triumphed.

In a statement, the former chief minister said the verdict marks the victory of "truth, righteousness, and honesty".

"In this politically motivated case, I was kept behind bars for almost 22 months, but despite that, we fought the case vigorously," Hamza said.

"The nation's money was wasted, and the reputation of institutions was also damaged due to the cases lodged on Imran Khan's directions," the PML-N leader said.

Hamza said that before Pakistani courts, the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency also gave a clean chit to PM Shehbaz.

"The actual money launderer is Imran Niazi, who received funds through a 'tea boy'. He is a certified foreign-funded [politician], who will now have to face the courts," he added.

Felicitating PM Shehbaz and Hamza, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Ata Tarar said that with this verdict the “narrative of vindictive accountability of the Imran-era has been buried.”

“Where is [Khan's former aide on accountability] Shahzad Akbar?” he questioned during a press conference.

PML-N MPA Hina Pervaiz Butt said another case "proved to be just a political vendetta against the Sharif family".

"No amount of lies can stop the naked flood of Truth. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz stand vindicated [...] Remember Sharifs can't be intimidated and can't be bowed down," she added.

The case

In December 2021, the FIA had submitted the challan against Shehbaz and Hamza before the special court for their alleged involvement in laundering an amount of Rs16 billion in the sugar scam case.

According to the FIA report submitted to the court, the investigation team has "detected 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3bn was committed during 2008-18. The FIA examined the 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 the Shehbaz family), it claimed. 

The money received from the accounts of low-wage employees by Shehbaz was transferred outside Pakistan via hundi/hawala networks, ultimately destined for the beneficial use of his family members, the FIA had alleged.

"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 agency had said.

"The three other co-accused of the Sharif group also actively facilitated the money laundering," it had added.