LAHORE: A special central court judge granted pre-arrest bail to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s son Suleman Shehbaz in an alleged money laundering case of Rs16 billion.
Earlier this month, Suleman Shehbaz had decided to return to the country after ending his four-year self-imposed exile and had informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) through his lawyer that he will reach Islamabad on December 11.
In a petition to the IHC, filed by his counsel, two weeks’ protective bail was sought in a money laundering case registered against him which was later granted.
In a petition to the special court, Suleman implored the court that he and his family had been subjected to political victimisation by implicating them in forged cases.
“The use of the law enforcing agencies during the previous regime as a tool for political engineering and to suppress, subjugate and humiliate the opposition has been a matter of great concern both by National, International intelligentsia, Human Rights and other organisations,” stated the petition stressing that the said perception was also duly noticed by the superior courts in various judgments, including the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The petition also said that Suleman was abroad in the United Kingdom (UK) since October 27, 2018, and the first information report (FIR) had been registered in his absence. Despite this, the prosecution managed to procure various orders, including an order declaring him a proclaimed offender “through misrepresentation and concealment of material facts”.
Pleading for his innocence, Suleman told the court that he had returned to Pakistan to surrender to the process of law.
“Notwithstanding the ruthless use of state apparatus at its disposal under the cover of investigation on the above allegations, for over a period of more than one year, respondent investigating agency could not collect an iota of evidence to suggest any nexus of the petitioner’s father and brother with the opening or operation of the alleged benami accounts; no evidence worth name could be collected and brought on record on the allegations of money laundering or involvement of proceeds of any crime in the investigation report […] by the Investigation Team which was constituted during the previous regime and which acted under the direct supervision, influence and pressure of the then advisor for interior and accountability Shahzad Akbar,” contended Suleman.
The petition also stressed that “the prosecution’s case could not stand the test of judicial scrutiny even at the tentative stage of bail” in the case of PM Shehbaz and his other son Hamza Shehbaz. It also brought to the court’s notice that earlier in October, a special central court had acquitted Shehbaz and Hamza in the Rs16 billion money laundering case.
Suleman “has never held any public office nor has he ever been a public servant, he never served in any organisation or corporation setup or administered by the Federal Government,” the petition furthered, adding that “his business affairs have never had any nexus with public exchequer, hence, no offence in terms of the prevention of corruption Act 1947 is made out against the petitioner”.
“So far as the allegation of the opening and operation of the alleged benami accounts is concerned,” it added, “there is no evidence neither documentary nor oral to show any role of the petitioner in the opening and operation of the said accounts. There is no evidence on record to show that any transaction in the alleged benami accounts has had any nexus with any crime.”
Suleman made the case that the “story given in the FIR does not attract the mischief of any offence falling within the ambit of Federal Investigation Act, 1974, as no loss occurred to the exchequer or the Bank or even any private person.” adding that the “Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) did not have the jurisdiction to proceed in the matter in view of the subsistence of a special law in the field i.e. Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Act, 2017 having an overriding effect over all other laws”.
After court proceedings, the concerned judge granted Suleman’s request for pre-arrest bail.
The money laundering case
The FIA had registered the case against Shehbaz Sharif and his sons Hamza Shehbaz Sharif (former chief minister of Punjab) and Suleman Shehbaz in November 2020 under sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 34 and 109 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and r/w 3/4 of Anti Money Laundering Act.
It is pertinent to mention that the FIA in December 2021 had submitted the challan against Shehbaz and Hamza over their alleged involvement in the Rs16 billion money laundering case.
The FIA’s report released 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family which were detected by the investigation team through which money laundering of Rs16.3 billion was allegedly committed during 2008-18. The FIA examined the money trail of 17,000 credit transactions. The report added up that the amount was kept in hidden accounts and given to Shehbaz in a personal capacity.
The agency alleged that the money received from the accounts of low-wage employees by Shehbaz had been transferred outside Pakistan through hundi giving benefits to his family. Eleven low-paid employees of the Sharif family were found guilty of facilitating money laundering.
Later, a special court judge had reserved the decision after hearing detailed arguments on the acquittal application of both the accused persons. However, after acquitting the aforesaid, the court summoned the rest of the accused for framing of charges in the case.
The co-accused nonetheless have also been granted bail on June 11, 2022, while their cases remain pending.