FIA grills Shehbaz in money-laundering case

Published December 19, 2020
In this file photo, Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif waves while being escorted by officials at the Lahore High Court after his bail was rejected on Sept 28. — AP
In this file photo, Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif waves while being escorted by officials at the Lahore High Court after his bail was rejected on Sept 28. — AP

LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Friday grilled PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif in the Rs25 billion money-laundering charges against him and his sons at the Kot Lakhpat jail.

An official source told Dawn that an FIA team quizzed the opposition leader in the National Assembly for more than two hours in jail. Mr Sharif was asked about his local and offshore businesses and suspected transactions under which a huge sum of money was laundered.

“Mr Sharif could not offer a satisfactory reply and said that his younger son Salman Shehbaz (who is absconding in the United Kingdom) handles the family business and can explain in this respect,” the source said, adding Mr Sharif also said he would respond to FIA questions in writing after consulting his legal team.

On Thursday, the FIA team had interrogated Hamza Shehbaz, the elder son of Shehbaz, for more than three hours to seek reply on similar charges at the Kot Lakhpat jail.

The FIA Lahore is investigating Shehbaz Sharif, his two sons and others in connection with the multi-billion rupee sugar scam under the money laundering, fraud and other charges. Shehbaz Sharif is accused of aiding and abetting his sons Hamza and Salman in amassing wealth (pecuniary resources) disproportionate to their known sources of income. The FIA recently booked them under sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 34 and 109 — financial fraud, impersonation and forgery — of the PPC and 5(2) and 5(3) — criminal misconduct — of Prevention of Corruption Act and r/w 3/4 of Anti Money Laundering Act.

The source said the FIA team asked both Shehbaz and Hamza to explain about a sum of Rs25bn received in bank accounts of various low-wage employees of Ramzan Sugar Mills and Al-Arabia Sugar Mills between 2008 and 2018 and accounts of fake companies set up and controlled by the Sharif group.

The FIA asked: “The low-wage employees of the Sharif group’s Ramzan Sugar Mills and Al-Arabia Sugar Mills (of the Sharif family) have admitted during the inquiry that these accounts were opened and operated for the personal/secret transactions of Salman Shehbaz on the instruction of CFO of the Sharif group Mohammad Usman. Mushtaq Cheeni has provided secret ledgers as a proof to show that the money from undisclosed sale of sugar deposited into these accounts is only Rs3.95bn implying therein that the source of remaining funds is extraneous to sugar business.”

The official source said neither Shehbaz nor Hamza could explain who had managed these accounts. Both father and son have been in the Kot Lakhpat jail in the cases of money laundering and income beyond means instituted by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

An accountability court last month indicted Shehbaz Sharif, Hamza Shehbaz and eight other suspects in NAB’s Rs7 billion reference of money laundering and assets beyond means. Shehbaz’s daughter Javeria Ali was also indicted through her pleader while four members of Shehbaz’s family had not joined the proceedings before the court. They are Nusrat, wife of Shehbaz, his son Shehbaz and son-in-law Haroon Yousaf. Nusrat Shebaz, Shebaz’s daughter Rabia Imran, Salman Shehbaz and Haroon have been declared absconders.

The reference mainly accused Shehbaz of being a beneficiary of the assets held in the name of his family members and benamidars who had no sources to acquire such assets. It said the family members and benamidars of Shehbaz’s family received fake foreign remittances of billions in their personal bank accounts. In addition to these remittances, the NAB said billions of rupees were laundered by way of foreign pay orders, which were deposited with personal bank accounts of Hamza and Salman.

Shehbaz and his family failed to justify the sources of funds used for acquisition of assets, the NAB said.

Reacting to the FIA’s investigation against the Sharif family, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said after the failure of the ‘NAB-Niazi alliance’, the FIA had been tasked to go after Shehbaz Sharif and his family members.

“After failing to prove corruption charges against Shehbaz and his family members by NAB-Niazi alliance, the FIA has been asked to take up this assignment. The FIA, like NAB, will also fail to establish any charge against the Sharif family as it never committed a single rupee corruption,” she said.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2020

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