LAHORE: Special Court (Central) Friday adjourned the hearing till October 8 in a Rs16 billion money laundering case filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son, Hamza Shahbaz.
During today’s hearing, Hamza did not appear before the court as he had sought exemption on medical grounds. Moments into the hearing, the prime minister also sought exemption as he had “important” matters to attend to.
The premier also told the court that a “fake case” has been registered against him and that he had made several decisions in the interest of the people, hurting his family business in the process.
PM Shehbaz’s lawyer, Amjad Pervaiz, who presented his arguments today will continue them at the next hearing as well.
The prime minister and his son, who is a top leader of the PML-N, had secured bail in the case in July after submitting bail bonds worth Rs1 million each.
At the outset, the premier’s lawyer, Amjad Pervaiz, told the court that his client will appear before it in a while. Shortly after, the premier arrived at the hearing.
Starting his arguments, Pervaiz said that the first information report (FIR) registered against his clients mentioned they were involved in money laundering worth Rs25 billion from 2008-2018 through fake companies.
“The allegations are general in nature. The FIR also mentions that the Sharif Group’s companies were used for money laundering. However, in those 10 years, Shehbaz was neither the director nor a shareholder of those companies.”
The FIR, Pervaiz said, was lodged after investigation and the initial paragraphs of the report do not mention Shehbaz.
The lawyer told the court that it is up to an individual whether they decide to keep movable or immovable property with them. At this, judge Aijaz Awan noted that they should declare it otherwise it becomes black money.
“If such is the case, the FIA would have taken action. This FIR was lodged in the previous government’s tenure. The court, with regards to the cases lodged in the previous government’s tenure, has already said that FIA was used for political engineering,” the lawyer pointed out.
In the FIR, it isn’t mentioned that low-paid employees claimed that they opened bank accounts on Shehbaz’s directions, Pervaiz told the court.
Pervaiz said that the prosecution claims that Shehbaz was involved in hiding Rs4 billion that he was able to get through selling sugar, however, we will still have to review the FIR to confirm whether this comes in the FIA’s jurisdiction or not.
“The FBR [Federal Board of Revenue] or the income tax department can take action in this matter,” he said.
“They (prosecution) use the name of Sharif group for political purposes. The name Sharif Group is not registered under the companies ordinance,” he added.
Shehbaz’s plea during hearing
Interrupting his lawyer, PM Shehbaz said he wanted to speak. The court allowed it.
“I have some important business in Islamabad. If you excuse me, I will leave. But before that, I want to say something.”
The prime minister told the court that he, in his capacity as the chief minister of Punjab for 20 years, made decisions that “hurt” his family’s sugar business.
“I was requested to provide subsidy to sugar mills, but I refused. I refused as the amount (that would be used for subsidy) was of the poor people in Punjab,” he said.
The PM termed the money laundering case against him as “fake” and said that he never provided a subsidy to sugar mills.
Noting that he had several other matters to attend to, the premier said that he has been handed an important responsibility during these pressing times.
“Petrol prices are going up. There are floods in the country. Every dollar is precious to us. I’ve prohibited exporting sugar as people would not forgive me if the price of sugar rose.”
If Pakistan exports sugar, the country will get foreign exchange reserves and no one likes stopping them from trickling in, he mentioned.
After the court allowed him, Shehbaz left.
In December 2021, the FIA submitted a challan against Shehbaz and Hamza to the special court for their alleged involvement in laundering Rs16 billion in a sugar scam.
According to the FIA report submitted to the court, the investigation team “detected 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3bn was committed from 2008-18. The FIA examined a 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 Shehbaz’s family), it claimed. The money allegedly received from the accounts of low-wage employees was transferred outside Pakistan via hundi/hawala networks, ultimately destined for the beneficial use of his family members, the FIA had said.
“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 three other co-accused of the Sharif group also actively facilitated the money laundering,” the agency had said.