PML-N, Govt trade barbs after Shehbaz Sharif’s ‘acquittal’ from UK court

Shahid Aslam Special Correspondent - Lahore

28th Sep, 2021. 08:27 pm
Reference Against Shehbaz Sharif's Son-In-Law, Daughter Adjourned Till 19 June

LAHORE: The top brass of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Tuesday lashed out at the ruling government of Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), saying it had shared “fabricated” evidence against Shahbaz Sharif with UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and had brought shame to the country.

Addressing a press conference here, senior PML-N leaders including former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Rana Sanaullah and Ahsan Iqbal hailed Shehbaz Sharif’s ácquittal’ by the UK court and said PTI’s accountability czar Shahzad Akbar had had vowed to pursue cases against the PML-N president, but now he has disassociated himself from the matter.

It may be relevant to mention here that after 21 months of investigation and review of 20 years of financial affairs, a British court ordered unfreezing of Shahbaz Sharif’s bank accounts as well as of his son Suleman Sharif.

Reportedly, the decision was taken by the court after UK’s top anti-corruption body, NCA, concluded there was no evidence of money laundering, fraud or criminal conduct against the two.

The Westminster Magistrates Court’s Judge Nicholas Rimmer set aside the two accounts freezing orders (AFO) against Shahbaz Sharif and his son, related to a December 2019 case filed by the NCA. The bank accounts of Shahbaz Sharif and Suleiman Shahbaz were frozen in December 2019 on court’s order.

During the investigation, the accounts of the Shahbaz Sharif and Sharif family in the UK and UAE were investigated.

Former Prime Minister Abbasi, sharing details about the case, recalled that in December 2019, the Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) had sent a letter to the NCA wherein it was claimed that there was evidence of money laundering against Shehbaz.

“The letter was written in the name of a person identified as Barrister Zia Naseem, but no one knows what his position is in this government,” Abbasi said, adding that the UK government would have very little idea about how frequently the prime minister and aides lie about things.

When one government shares details with another, they are considered to be based on facts and truth, he explained. “And so, the NCA filed a petition on the basis of the details provided by the Pakistani government and initiated a probe [against Shehbaz].”

PML-N senior leader further claimed that a comprehensive investigation was carried out by the NCA in three countries, namely Pakistan, UK and the United Arab Emirates.

Abbasi further stated that before initiating a probe, the NCA would usually ask for the account holder’s consent to launch an investigation or would seek the court’s permission.

Holding up a document, Abbasi said it was the written copy of the consent given by Shehbaz to the NCA, adding that no obstacles were placed in the course of the investigation by the Sharifs.

The PML-N leader said the NAB and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had also been corresponding with the NCA regarding the matter. “Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) and, as per the PML-N’s sources, even Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials, used to go to London to meet NCA officials.”

Abbasi alleged that DG NAB Lahore, the ARU, FIA and other agencies were involved in framing allegations against the PML-N president. “And now, the prime minister of this country says his government had nothing to do with the probe,” he said.

Further elaborating the NCA’s investigation, the former premier said the probe continued for 20 months in three countries but no evidence of money laundering or any other crime was found against Shehbaz.

Dubbing the move an act of “revenge” Mr Abbasi said:  “Today, the prime minister is a cause of shame for our country as his government shared “fabricated evidence.”

“There is no end to their (the PTI government’s) revenge,” he further said.

Continuing his tirade against the PTI government, he said it had attacked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the media and was now criticizing television channels and accusing them of airing fake news.

The PML-N leader further lamented that PTI government was using the [government] machinery and every [possible] tactic against the opposition.

“The prime minister of this country, in his own office, creates an Asset Recovery Unit that has no legal basis. And what has that ARU done?” he asked.

He referred to the papers in his hand, saying that they were official documents submitted by the NCA at the UK court.

Referring to the NCA probe against the PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif and his son Suleman, Abbasi said that normally in money laundering cases, financial transactions only six years back were traced.

“In this case, however, the probe stretched to cover financial transactions covering a period of over 20 years,” he claimed.

Abbasi further stated that money sent by Shahbaz from Pakistan to his UK bank account was legal money.

Speaking on the occasion PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal said that the government could not, till this day, find evidence of former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s involvement in corruption.

“Each case has slammed shut on their faces,” he said, referring to the government. “You could not even prove corruption worth Rs32 in a Rs3,200 bn project,” he added.

Iqbal said that the government was failing the masses as it was busy registering fake cases against the Opposition. “However, your failure is becoming a matter of life and death for the public,” he said.

Iqbal said the government itself was inviting trouble from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as the prime minister was repeatedly saying at international forums that political leaders in the country were involved in money laundering. “This he does only to promote his politics of hatred and revenge,” he said.

Responding to claims of PML-N of getting “a clean chit” from a U K court, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, said that a recent order by a court in the United Kingdom did not mention PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, adding that he had not been acquitted of money laundering charges.

In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Mirza Shahzad Akbar pointed out that there was no asset freezing order (AFO) against Shehbaz in the UK.

He said that the PML-N president was not mentioned in the UK court’s order nor had he been acquitted of any charges. “Shehbaz was not facing money laundering charges in London but despite this, the lifting of an AFO was presented [by the PML-N] as if he was acquitted in a money laundering case.”

Akbar further asked the journalist community to peruse the order and see whether Shehbaz’s name had been mentioned.

He also pointed out that it was being portrayed as if the ARU or the NAB had initiated the investigation in the first place, terming it “incorrect and misreporde.”

He said that the NCA had contacted the institutions and asked for details of criminal inquiries and convictions against the individuals being investigated.

He said that the ARU had answered the NCA’s queries in a letter and provided various details on pending investigations concerning Shehbaz and his family in 2019. He said the entirety of the letter was not being shared and said that Pakistan was only providing assistance to the investigation in the UK.

The advisor to PM also pointed out that according to information shared with the government, lifting the AFO did not mean that the funds under investigation were legitimate, but merely that the investigation was not being pursued any further.

Mr Akbar further expressed his surprise that it was most surprising that the case was against Suleman and the AFO was issued against him, but the narrative being built since yesterday that Shehbaz had been vindicated.

“How has he [Shehbaz Sharif] been vindicated?”

He said that Shehbaz was celebrating the court order pertaining to his son as a victory, but had disassociated himself from his family members and their affairs during ongoing inquiries in Pakistan.

He pointed out that the PML-N president and his sons were currently facing money laundering charges in Pakistan but were trying to create a “false narrative”.

“There is an effort under way to create a false narrative by twisting facts and this narrative cannot be made,” he said, adding that it was one thing for the PML-N to form its own narrative but it was “saddening” when some individuals colluded and cooperated with them.

He criticised a certain media house in particular, stating that it was shifting narratives as it pleased and termed it a clear example of “fake news.”

Requesting media to report facts, Mr Akbar said: “No one can stop journalists from their responsibility not any law or any institution.”

Regarding any possible legal action, he said lawyers would be consulted on the matter. He further asked Shehbaz to approach the courts and submit an application if he considered himself to be acquitted of all charges.

FIA probe to continue

On the other hand, talking to Bol News here on Tuesday, head of sugar case inquiry and Director FIA Lahore, Zone-1 Dr Muhammad Rizwan said that the UK’s investigations had northing do with their ongoing probe and they would continue their investigations against Shehbaz Sharif and his family members under money laundering charges.

Dr Rizwan told Bol News that the UK court’s decision was related to NAB which wouldn’t affects FIA’s ongoing probe at all.

FIA Lahore had registered a Rs 25-billion money laundering case against Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz and are currently investigating dozens of fake accounts which were allegedly used for money laundering from 2008 till 2018.

The PML-N president and his son are on pre-arrest bails till October 09.

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