Earlier this week, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son, Chief Minister Punjab Hamza Shehbaz,secured pre-arrest bails from a special court in the Rs16 billion money laundering case pending against them with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) since 2020.
As per the charge sheet, Sharif and his sons, Hamza and Suleman Shehbaz, deposited Rs25 billion in the bank accounts of low wages of employees of their companies, Ramzan Sugar Mills and Al-Arabia Sugar Mills, between 2008 and 2018.
The money was collected through fake companies set up by the Sharif Group, alleges the FIA.
The investigation agency, which began the probe on October 14, 2020, claims that the low wages employees admitted that these bank accounts were opened for secret transactions by Suleman Shehbaz, while Shehbaz Sharif “aided and abetted” his sons.
A trial into the case is still ongoing but Sharif and his son have been granted pre-arrest bail as judge Ijaz Hassan Awan of the special court found the following loopholes in the FIA’s inquiry into the high-profile case:
- As per the FIA, the money was funnelled between the years 2008 and 2018, yet the First Information Report (FIR) was registered on October 14 2020. Sharif’s counsel argued that the FIA has not explained the inordinate delay.
- The FIA alleges that the beneficiaries of the bank accounts were Hamza, Suleman and Shehbaz Sharif, but FIA’s prosecutor “admitted that there is no direct evidence against Shehbaz about his nexus with the administration of the Ramzan Sugar Mills,” the court noted.
- Furthermore, none of the witnesses appearing before the investigation officers made any statement about being influenced or receiving instructions from Hamza Shehbaz, about opening or operating of bank accounts.
- The FIA prosecutor also admitted that the investigation into the case was complete even though, the court adds, the “the prosecution could not collect any document showing any share or nexus of Shehbaz Sharif with the management of Ramzan Mills, as he is neither a shareholder nor a director and the special prosecutor during arguments admitted this fact.”
- Initially, Sharif was accused of money laundering of Rs25 billion, as mentioned in the FIR, but later the amount was reduced to Rs16 billion by the FIA.
- The FIR was lodged on October 14, 2020, but FIA did not submit an interim challan till December 12, 2021
- In 2020, the FIA visited the Central Jail in Lahore to probe Shehbaz and Hamza, after which for five months the FIA remained silent regarding the case.
- The FIA petitioned to have the accused, Shehbaz and Hamza, arrested only after they were released on bail in a NAB case. “This shows mala fide on the part of the FIA,” states the court order.
- 100 depositors joined the investigation but the statements of only 64 were recorded, and even their statements related to the amount of Rs670 million against the claim amount of Rs16 billion by the FIA.
- None of those probed nominated Shehbaz or Hamza in their statements.
- The statements of those interrogated “did not spell out bribe, kickbacks or commissions,” highlights the court
- The Investigation Officer of the FIA has not kept a police diary to date.
While granting bail, the court also adds that the allegations of corrupt practice and abuse of authority require further probe during trial and the judge’s observations are only of tentative nature.