A Lahore court on Saturday extended the pre-arrest bail for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz in the Rs16 billion money laundering case.
The court further issued bailable arrest warrants for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s, son Suleman, Tahir Naqvi, Malik Maqsood for not appearing before the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
A sessions court has already declared Suleman an offender for not becoming a part of the investigation.
During the hearing on Saturday, FIA prosecutor Farooq Bajwa urged the court to complete the process of declaring the three suspects as absconders, adding that if the case continued its current course, it will only benefit the accused.
The prime minister and the Punjab chief minister appeared in Lahore’s Special Court (Central-I) in Rs16 billion money laundering case.
At the start of the proceedings, Judge Ijaz Hassan Awan expressed his displeasure over security personnel stopping the court’s staff from entering the court room.
This led to an interesting exchange between the judge and PM Shehbaz.
The judge said even the accused were not being allowed to enter, at which the prime minister replied he was shocked to see the security arrangements and even he was stopped from entering.
“This should be thoroughly investigated,” the prime minister said, to which the judge reminded the him that he is the head of the state and he can order an investigation right now.
“I will immediately ask Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz to investigate this.” said the PM.
Subsequently, the judge summoned the court’s security in charge who apologized for the inconvenience caused due to the arrangement. The SP assured the court of action against those responsible for it.
The prime minister arrived on the rostrum and called the cases against him “politically motivated and “filed at the behest of the previous Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.
He said England’s National Crime Agency was asked by the previous government to probe him, and after 21 months, not even a single rupee’s corruption was found against him.
He added that he remained Punjab’s chief minister for ten years but “did not draw any salary.”
“My salary was Rs600m, but I did not draw it. I even made foreign trips with my own money and paid for the fuel of my official vehicle,” the prime minister said.
PM Shehbaz and Hamza Shahbaz’s counsel Amjad Pervaiz argued that the transactions labelled as money laundering in the case were done through banking channels.
For one and a half year, a slanderous campaign was carried out against the respondents, said Pervaiz.
“It appears that the FIR [in the case] was written after taking inspiration from a Netflix series,” said Pervaiz.
Critizing the FIA’s delaying tactics during the case, Pervaiz added the agency delayed filing of the charge sheet for 16 months.
“The charge sheet filed that was later filed was full of dubious and baseless allegations.”
He said the entire case was and the inquiry was filed upon the malafide intentions of the former government.
This case was an an attempt at political engineering, said Pervaiz, adding that it was “an attempt to politically damage his clients.”
Meanwhile, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) prosecutor argued that PM Shehbaz’s son Suleman Shehbaz was an absconder in the case and pleaded the court to initiate the process to declare him a proclaimed offender.
PM, CM avoid indictment
The judge had set May 14 as the date for the duo’s indictment however, it was deferred as the prime minister was on a visit to the UAE.
The PM’s counsel stated that he was suffering from cancer and was in London for treatment. He said the prime minister was scheduled to return May 13, but he had a doctor’s appointment Wednesday for his checkup, which delayed the return.
Shehbaz and Hamza were booked in the case along Suleman Shehbaz, who was absconding in the United Kingdom. 14 other people were also named in the FIR.
The FIA submitted the challan December 2021, claiming it discovered benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering was done.