Court grants PM Shehbaz, CM Hamza pre-arrest bails in money laundering case

Court grants PM Shehbaz, CM Hamza pre-arrest bails in money laundering case

Court grants PM Shehbaz, CM Hamza pre-arrest bails in money laundering case

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz (L) . Photo: Files

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LAHORE: A special court (Central-I) on Saturday confirmed pre-arrest bail of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Chief Minister of Punjab Hamza Shehbaz in a Rs16 billion money laundering case initiated by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Earlier, Shehbaz and Hamza appeared before the court amid strict security arrangements.

After completing the arguments, Special Court Central Judge Ijaz Hassan Awan reserved the verdict and announced it later. The duo bail applications were pending for 11 months.

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.

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FIA Prosecutor Farooq Bajwa said he sought 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.

Read more: Court once again adjourns hearing of Shehbaz, Hamza’s money laundering case

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.

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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 were collected in the case.

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.

During hearing, PM Shehbaz approached the rostrum and stated: “I am obliged to inform the court of the truth regarding my bail.”

He said that the case by the FIA was 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.

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“Do 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 the 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 was his greatest asset and that “severe” allegations had been made against him.

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“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 was neither a director nor a stakeholder of the Ramzan Sugar Mills.

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.

The court ordered Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz to submit bail bonds of one million each and 16 co-accused to two million each.

FIA Special Prosecutor Farooq Bajwa informed the court that service of the arrest warrants issued against three proclaimed offenders (POs) including Suleman Shehbaz, the premier’s other son, had not been executed as the suspects were not available on their given addresses. The other POs are Malik Maqsood Ahmad and Syed Tahir Naqvi.

However, the FIA prosecutor declined to confirm the death of co-accused Malik Maqsood without obtaining his death certificate.

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Advocate Amjad Pervez, the defence counsel, argued that Shehbaz had no link to any of the bank accounts as alleged by the FIA. He said the onus to prove a relation between a suspect and the alleged benamidar was on the prosecution.

He said the FIA could not produce a single witness during the last ten years to establish any relation of the alleged bank accounts with Shehbaz. He said even if the story of the prosecution was to be believed it claimed that the bank accounts had been opened for Suleman.

The counsel said the FIA alleged that Malik Maqsood, a peon at Ramzan Sugar Mills, received an amount of Rs3 billion in his bank account. Denying the allegation, he said 98 per cent transactions made in the bank account of Maqsood were not cash but transfers entries.

He said the record showed that Maqsood used to file his tax returns every year and the total amount received in his account was not more than Rs50 million. He argued that the prosecution needed to prove a criminal act even if the peon was a benamidar.

Advocate Pervez said the challan submitted by the FIA was nothing more than a story based on assumptions.

Earlier, PM Shehbaz personally spoke in his defence with the court’s permission. Shehbaz claimed that he used to bear his travelling expenses both international and domestic from personal pocket during his 12-year stint as chief minister. The PM said his decisions as the chief minister caused a huge loss to the business of his family. Shehbaz and Hamza were allowed to leave after their attendance was marked.

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The FIA booked Mr Sharif and his sons Hamza Shehbaz and Suleman Shehbaz in November 2020 under sections 419,420,468, 471, 34 and 109 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and read with Section 3/4 of Anti Money Laundering Act.

 

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