Money laundering case: Experts believe challan filed against Shehbaz has glaring loopholes

Money laundering case: Experts believe challan filed against Shehbaz has glaring loopholes

Money laundering case: Experts believe challan filed against Shehbaz has glaring loopholes

President of PML-N Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Sharif. Image: File

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Glaring loopholes in the Rs 16 billion money laundering case initiated by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against Shahbaz Sharif and his family could be fatal for the prosecution in the trial court, believe former FIA officials and legal experts.

A senior lawyer and expert in money laundering cases, Adnan Shuja Butt, told Bol News that FIA has poorly investigated the mega money laundering case against Sharifs and subsequently submitted a weak report (challan) in the court of law, either due to alleged inefficiency or an alleged deliberate effort to favor the accused.

Prime Minister Imran Khan soon after assuming the office in 2018 had declared a war against corruption and promised with the nation to bring back their looted money. For this purpose, PM Khan brought his trust-worthy Shahzad Akbar as his advisor on Accountability and Interior. Mr Akbar was asked to resign a week back after his failure to get conviction of a single accused in a corruption or major money laundering case even after remaining at the helm of accountability affairs for more than three years.

Read more: At least 15 opposition members standing with PM Imran, says Sheikh Rashid

A probe into the sugar scandal was referred to FIA Lahore by the federal cabinet in 2020 after a report of the sugar commission, formed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, had revealed that the sugar mafia through cartelization and artificial shortage managed price hike of sugar and pocketed billions of rupees in a year.

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The FIA team in November 2020 had registered an FIR against PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif and disgruntled leader of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Jahangir Khan Tareen.

The FIA team in November 2020 had registered an FIR against PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif and disgruntled leader of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Jahangir Khan Tareen.

After conducting investigations for 15 months, the FIA team submitted the challan in the court against Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza but investigations against Tareens are still in limbo.

But, perusal of the FIA’s Investigation Report (Challan) has revealed that it would be a hard nut to crack for the prosecution to establish direct link of Sharifs with the alleged Rs 16 billion crime proceeds which purportedly accumulated by using of 28 alleged benami accounts opened in the names of low-wage employees of Ramzan Sugar Mills (RSM).

FIA claimed in the challan that sufficient (documentary) evidence is available on record to connect the three principal accused including former Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Shahbaz and Suleman Shahbaz.

According to FIA, the accused acted in concert for personal enrichment by acquiring over Rs 16 billion through improper means hence Shahbaz Sharif is found guilty of offence under section 5 (1) (a), 5 (1) (d) and 5 (1) (e) read with section 5 (3), 5(2) and section 5-C of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) 1947 and section 3 and 4 of Anti Money Laundering Act (AMLA) 2010.

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Similarly, Hamza Shahbaz is found guilty of offences under sections 5 (1) (e) read with section 5 (3), 5 (2), section 5-C of PCA 1947 and sections 3 and 4 of the AMLA 2010 being CEO of RSM from 2008-18.  The role of Suleman Shahbaz would be determined upon his arrest but the evidence suggested that he aided and abetted his brother Hamza Shahbaz hence found guilty of the same offence.

It is also interesting to note that Hamza and Suleman both have 52 per cent share of RSM respectively whereas the remaining 48 per cent share belongs to Nusrat Shahbaz, wife of former CM, 46 and his daughter 02 respectively but FIA did not nominate them as accused in the challan. Terming Nusrat Shahbaz as a housewife, FIA said businesses under Sharif Group were practically run by Hamza and Suleman.

The FIA has also presented a list of around 100 Prosecution Witnesses (PWs) against Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza and Suleman in the challan [report]

Among the PWs, 64 are depositors who had deposited around 65 million of rupees into the alleged benami accounts but they didn’t say that the amount was from any kickback or corruption but those were the payments against certain businesses.

Read more: PM Imran threatened armed forces, judiciary in his address before nation: Fazl

The 64 PWs are not related to sugar business but they are contractors, petroleum-dealers, pharma vendors, flour and rice mills owners and various traders and merchants. Moreover, among the 64 PWs, there is not a single witness who had accused Shahbaz Sharif of Hamza of taking bribery.

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The challan, however, is further silent about any evidence related to the remaining amount of Rs 15.95 billion as mentioned in the challan.

According to the FIA, this happened during the time Shahbaz Sharif remained Chief Minister Punjab for two consecutive terms 2008 till 2018. He patronized the money laundering of Sharif Group in which his sons were directors.

The FIA team had detected 57 high turnover fictitious ID/benami accounts having over 55000 inward and outward transactions from 2008 to 2018. Out of those, the FIA team only investigated 28 benami accounts which were opened/operated in the name of low-wage employees of Sharif Group.

The FIA further claimed that over 17, 300 credit transactions amounting to Rs 16.36 billion into these 28 accounts were analyzed to identify inward money trail of deposits. Over 9500 counter-party details amounting to Rs 10 billion credit transactions were obtained from the respective banks.

11 out of 14 employees of Sharif Group had joined the investigation and corroborated that benami accounts were opened/operated in their name by Sharif Group management and they have no knowledge about the source of funds in these benami accounts.

On the other hand, according to Shuja Butt, no effort was made by FIA to establish that 16 billion of rupees deposited into the alleged 28 benami accounts by depositors was proceeds of crimes/kickbacks against Shahbaz Sharif and his family. He said proceeds of crime is an essential ingredient to prove money laundering against an individual, adding that any corruption by Shahbaz or Hamza hasn’t not been thrashed out by the FIA team.

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“The first duty of the investigation team was to establish that the alleged amount was proceeds of a crime and the second step was to establish that this money was laundered by Shahbaz Sharif and his family,” Butt noted, adding the next step was to connect proceeds of crime with the accused persons (beneficiaries) through money trail. However, unfortunately, FIA was unable to link one event with another in a sequence to make it a strong provable case.

Another senior lawyer, seeking anonymity, told Bol News that FIA couldn’t establish 28 accounts are benami accounts of the Sharifs. There is no evidence in the challan about the origin of the money deposited into accounts and the destination of the money or its users/beneficiaries.

He further said the inquiry team was supposed to establish bribery/corruption  of Shahbaz Sharif or his son Hamza Shahbaz being public office holders to attract the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) 1947. He added that FIA didn’t nominate any banker or government official as accused in the case.

“Since no public servant was challaned by the FIA, provisions of PCA could not be applied in the present case,” he said, adding that Shahbaz and his son were public office holders and they don’t fall under the definition of public servant. He said the special judge central-1 lacked jurisdiction in the case.

The lawyer believed that the instant case may be part of assets beyond known source of income if proved that benami accounts are of Sharifs.

It has also been revealed that in the challan FIA had dropped certain provisions of law incorporated earlier in the FIR against Shahbaz Sharif and his sons in November 2020.

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The FIA had registered an FIR against Sharifs under sections 419, 420, 468, 469, 471, 109, 34 of the PPC and section 5 (2) & 5 (3) of PCA 1947 read with section 3 and 4 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) 2010 after holding an inquiry.

While submitting challan, the FIA has dropped section 419, punishment for cheating by personation, 420, cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, 468, forgery for purpose of cheating, 469, forgery for purpose of harming reputation, 471, using as genuine a forged document, 109, abetment and 34, acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention while submitting challan in the court.

According to a senior FIA official, the question arises if those illegal acts were not committed by Sharifs then why the inquiry team had applied them in the FIR.

He said what has now forced FIA to drop these sections as there was no change in the FIA team. It was the same team which had conducted the enquiry, registered the FIR and ultimately submitted the challan.”

“Unable to believe that former prosecutor of NAB Barrister Shahzad Akbar and senior police officers including DG FIA Sanaullah Abbasi, former Additional DG FIA Abubakar Khuda Bakhash and DIG (Director FIA) Dr. Rizwan all remained unaware of these aspects,” the senior FIA official said.

Already, Prime Minister Imran Khan has removed Barrister Shahzad Akbar from the post of Advisor on Accountability and Interior for his failure to fix Sharifs and other accused and appointed Brigadier (Retd) Musaddiq Abbasi in his place.

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In the more than five dozen pages of challan, only a single citation of Rs 5 million as alleged corruption of Shahbaz Sharif has been made by the FIA.

Aslam Zeb Butt, son of Aurangzeb Butt, appeared before FIA on the behalf of his father. According to the report, Aslam Zeb Butt told the investigation team that his father is a PML-N worker and due to fear of Sharifs neither he nor his father would give any formal statement to this effect that two cheques amounting to Rs 5 million were given to Shahbaz Sharif in a meeting at his Model Town office.

According to FIA, both the cheques were ultimately deposited into the benami account of late Gulzar Ahmad Khan, an employee of RSM.

These cheques were not given as party fund but a gratification to the then CM Punjab and in return he appointed Aurangzeb Butt as chairman development & beautification committee Gujrat in 2015, FIA observed.

Read more: Shehbaz, Hamza granted interim bail in money laundering case

Aurangzeb Butt was only a party worker but he was authorized to give instructions to the Deputy Commissioner and other government officials of Gurat.

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“This is a classic example of abuse of authority by the then Chief Minister, ” FIA wrote in the challan.

According to FIA, the accounts of low-wage employees of Sharif group were actually benami accounts of the PML-N president as he hasn’t declared them with the Federal Board of Revenue. “The onus of proving pecuniary resources, disproportionate to known sources of income acquired ostensibly through improper means lies on the public servants.”

The FIA further noted that Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz were given ample opportunities during the investigation to explain the same but due to their persistent evasive attitude and total noncooperation, they missed the opportunities. That’s why Section 5-C of the PCA 1947 is applied to them for trial.

Director General FIA Sanaullah Abbasi and former advisor Shahzad Akbar were sent questions but they preferred not to respond on the matter till the filing of this report.

Former ADG FIA Abubakar Khuda Bakhash said he had never remained a supervisory officer of this case as Dr Rizwan and the Interior Ministry were directly dealing with this matter.

“Please ask these questions to ‘chief investigator’ Dr Rizwan,” the former ADG said, adding the case of Jahangir Khan Tareen was once referred to him for comments and he gave his opinion.

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Responding to queries, Muhammad Rizwan, head of sugar inquiry, said they have evidence comprising 4370 pages regarding proceeds of crime (illicit wealth) of Shahbaz Sharif family of over Rs. 16 billion.

To a question, he said if public servants accumulate and possess illicit undeclared wealth, Prevention of Corruption Act 1947 clearly says it is a criminal misconduct (corruption).

About deletion of certain offences, he said these are benami accounts in names of peons/ clerks and not fake accounts so these offences were deleted, adding that sections can be added in the Challan.

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