ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday directed his legal team to ensure fresh investigation into the Hudaibya Paper Mills (HPM) case against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and other members of the family.
The government also decided to challenge the recent Lahore High Court (LHC) decision to grant bail to the opposition leader along with the permission to go abroad for medical treatment.
While strongly opposing the PM’s decision, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) said his statement proved that all cases against the Sharifs were part of political vengeance. The opposition recalled that the Supreme Court had already quashed an appeal and upheld the LHC’s decision in 2014 that had disposed of the case in favour of the Sharif family.
According to Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, the government decided to hold fresh investigations into the HPM case, because it was the starting point of the Sharif family’s corruption.
PML-N says move proves all cases are based on political vengeance
He said the PM took the decision during a detailed briefing given to him by his legal team about the cases against the PML-N president.
In a tweet, Mr Chaudhry said that Sharif brothers were the main accused in the Hudaibya case. “It is all the more important to bring the case to its logical conclusion as the ways and means for laundering looted money abroad in it were later adopted in other cases,” he added.
The agencies concerned were being issued directives to probe the Hudaibya case afresh, he stated.
The minister later told Dawn that the government believed that the HPM was a ‘criminal case’ that could be reopened anytime. “Yes we cannot reopen civil cases once they are decided, but cases of criminal nature can be reopened even after they are disposed of by the courts,” he added.
Mr Chaudhry disclosed that investigation could be started afresh after the relevant investigation agencies found some links of Telegraphic Transactions (TT) of Mr Shehbaz with the HPM.
About the bail and permission to go abroad recently granted to Mr Shehbaz by the LHC, the minister said the government had decided to challenge the decision.
The opposition party leader after obtaining bail was about to fly to London on May 8 when a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team at the airport stopped him from travelling on the ground that his name had been on the list of persons barred from leaving the country.
FIA being tasked with probe
Asked if the government would file an appeal in the Supreme Court or it would start fresh investigation against the Sharifs, the minister said the government had decided to task the FIA with fresh investigation. Once the FIA took up the case, it would have to start investigation within 14 days time, he said, disclosing that the agency “is likely to take up the case within the next couple of days”.
The HPM case involving Rs1.242 billion had been initiated in March 2000, with the Sharif brothers said to be the main accused, when the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) authorities moved a reference. Maryam Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz, both children of the ex-premier, as well as Ishaq Dar were among other accused.
PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said by ordering a fresh investigation into Hudaibya Paper Mills, Mr Khan had proved that all the cases against Mr Shehbaz till date were “fictitious, false and political victimization”.
Responding to Mr Chaudhry’s statement, the former information minister said from Saaf Paani, Ganda Naala to Multan Metro, Lahore Metro and assets beyond means all cases were nothing but a product of political vengeance and prejudice.
While labeling PM’s team of legal experts as “illegal team”, she said it should tell the prime minister that the Supreme Court had already quashed the Hudaibya reference. She reminded that even during the Panama Papers investigation when the anti-graft watchdog tried to revive this inquiry, the court hearing the pack of lies from NAB shut it down. “Why don’t these rented mouthpieces tell that NAB moved the Supreme Court after the High Court but the Supreme Court maintained the same stance,” she added.
Ms Aurangzeb asked the government to focus on the skyrocketing inflation rate and unemployment and stop its political circus of “vengeance, diversion and victimization”.
“Every time PTI and its leadership is shamefully dismissed from the court. Imran Khan should not test the patience of the people who are already enraged after being crushed under inflation and taxes of the PTI regime,” she added.
According to the government, the accused in the HPM case had failed to explain source of the acquisition of the funds. They had been accused of committing money laundering/concealment of ill-gotten wealth, defrauding institutions and individuals including a number of banks and tax authorities.
On April 25, 2000, former finance minister Ishaq Dar, in a confessional statement, which he later said was taken from him under pressure, said he had reservations in opening and operation of benami accounts but was assured by the party supremo Nawaz Sharif that he would not face any punitive action.
When the reference was moved to an accountability court during former president Gen Musharraf’s regime, Nawaz was already under arrest and later was exiled to Saudi Arabia.
In 2008, the case was taken up again but was adjourned as the application moved to reopen it lacked signature of the then NAB chairman. The trial court had not issued summons to the accused persons to face trial since the filing of the case.
The Sharif family later challenged the reference before the Lahore High Court. As a two-member division bench gave a split verdict, the case was referred to a referee judge who supported the LHC judge in favour of closing the case and it was shut in March 2014.
Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2021