LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has revived investigation against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shehbaz Sharif and his sons in the multibillion rupees sugar scam seven months after it registered a case against them, and summoned him at his Lahore office on June 22.
The opposition leader in the National Assembly and his sons Hamza and Suleman were booked by the FIA in November 2020 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. Suleman Shehbaz is absconding in the UK.
This is the first time the FIA has summoned Shehbaz in this case since it was registered in November last. The FIA has asked Shehbaz to join the investigation or face arrest.
The PML-N has described the move as a political victimisation of the opposition leader saying Prime Minister Imran Khan is ‘hiding behind the state institutions’ to target him (Shehbaz).
In the call-up notice to Shehbaz, the FIA Lahore said: “The sugar investigation team (FIA) Lahore while conducting a criminal investigation with respect to Al-Arabia Sugar Mills Ltd (ASML)/Ramzan Sugar Mills Ltd. (RSML) and related family-owned business entities discovered over Rs 25bn deposited (2008-18) in bank accounts opened/operated in the names of peons and clerks of RSML, while you (Shehbaz) held the office of chief minister Punjab.”
PML-N berates premier for ‘hiding behind state institutions’
The FIA said it had credible evidence that an amount of over Rs25bn (including gratifications from sources extraneous to sugar business) in accounts were opened and operated in the name of low-wage employees of RSML/ASML/fake companies and Shehbaz Sharif was privy to any of the transactions deposited into/received from these accounts by or on his behalf.
“If no, then how, for example, the cheques (worth Rs5 million) received by you from Aurangzeb Butt, ended up being deposited into the account of Gulzar A. Khan (deceased), a peon of RSML,” it asked.
The FIA said gratifications in cash were received on Shehbaz’s behalf by Suleman in bulk cash at former chief minister’s residence-cum-camp office at Model Town, Lahore and transported using his (Shehbaz’s) bullet-proof land cruiser of the Sharif group’s corporate office (at 55-K Model Town, Lahore) for onward structured deposits into various accounts by his trusted cash officers. The FIA asked him to give his written response to these allegations.
The FIA further said money received from the accounts of low- wage employees (of the Sharif group) by Shehbaz Sharif was transferred via various hundi / hawala networks outside Pakistan and ultimately destined for beneficial use of his family members. “What is your response to these money-laundering activities,” FIA asked him.
In the call-up notice, the FIA also asked Shehbaz to provide details of all international assets (companies, properties, investments or accounts etc) excluding the four apartments already declared to the FBR, “which are either held in your or any of your family member’s name(s) or those in which you or any of your family members (spouses & children) have any controlling or beneficial interest, either directly or through any special purpose vehicle / off-shore company.”
The FIA asked Shehbaz to appear in person before the sugar investigation team on June 22 at its Temple Road office. “Failure to comply with this call-up notice will entail (that you have nothing to say in your defence and the investigation team may proceed to take legal actions against you including arrest) on the grounds clearly invoked in this notice and the evidence available on record,” the FIA said.
It also asked him to bring all documentary evidence in support of his responses/claims pertaining to the aforementioned charges.
The FIA said Mr Shehbaz was also given an opportunity to respond to these charges in December 2020 and January 2021 but he did not bother.
The FIA has also registered cases against several sugar mills including that of former secretary general of PTI Jahangir Tareen and his son Ali Tareen, the owners of two media groups, the mills in which federal minister Khusro Bakhtiar and his family members have shares, and 40 Satta agents (price manipulators). However, the FIA last week did not seek Mr Tareen and his son’s arrest before two courts, citing lack of ‘incriminating evidence’ against them in the money-laundering and sugar scam cases.
The sugar baron reportedly managed to extract relief from the FIA after 30 or so lawmakers backing him pressurised Prime Minister Imran Khan with a warning that they would not support the PTI governments in the federal and Punjab budgets if ‘justice’ was not done to their leader (Tareen).
Reacting to the FIA’s notice to Shehbaz, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said Imran Khan was ‘abusing’ the state institutions against the opposition leader to ‘vent his desperation and frustration’ over his failure to deceive the nation with a fraud budget 2021-22.
“Imran Khan signed all decisions regarding the export of sugar against the advice of the relevant authorities that led to shortage and escalation of prices. It was Imran who signed the permission for the import of sugar that led to corruption,” she alleged.
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 16th, 2021