Shehbaz claims harassment by investigators

Published July 11, 2021
In this Sept 2020 file photo, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif leaves the Lahore High Court after the hearing of his bail petition. — AFP/File
In this Sept 2020 file photo, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif leaves the Lahore High Court after the hearing of his bail petition. — AFP/File

LAHORE: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday took on the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), accusing it of misbehaving with and humiliating him during his appearance last month in the multi-billion sugar scam.

The FIA was quick to reject the claim, explaining that the opposition leader in the National Assembly was treated well, but his response to the investigators’ queries was rather “non-serious, irresponsible and totally evasive”.

Mr Shehbaz made this complaint when he and his son Hamza appeared before a sessions court judge to seek extension to their pre-arrest bail in the scam. The court extended their bail till Aug 2.

FIA says PML-N president was addressed as ‘honourable opposition leader’, ‘PM-in-waiting’

After hearing the complaint, Additional District and Sessions Judge Syed Ali Abbas, who heard the bail plea as a duty judge for a special court (banking off­en­ces), directed the FIA’s investigating officer to “strictly follow human rights and not harass” him during the investigation.

Narrating the tale of his appearance before the FIA on June 22 in the sugar scam, Mr Shehbaz claimed: “The investigators spoke to me loudly. They laughed at me and mocked me during the investigation. At one point, the investigation team called another person (suspect) in the room and started interrogating him harshly, indirectly harassing me.”

He claimed to have provided satisfactory answers to all the queries of the team. “Irked at the mistreatment, I stood up and asked the investigators the reason behind their misbehaviour. I never witnessed such nasty behaviour by the FIA team during interrogation,” narrated the ex-chief minister.

The FIA investigator in turn told the court that the suspects had joined the investigation that was still under way. “The record of the case is being collected and the investigation will soon be concluded,” he said.

In response to the allegations levelled by the PML-N president, an FIA spokesperson in a statement explained that all members of the sugar scam investigation team had addressed Shehbaz Sharif respectfully as “Mian sahib”.

“During his (June 22) appearance before the FIA investigators in the sugar scam, Mr Shehbaz was offered coffee. The FIA Anti-Corruption Circle additional director addressed him as ‘honourable opposition leader’ and ‘prime minister-in-waiting’. However, his response to the questions was non-serious, irresponsible and totally evasive,” the spokesperson stated.

He claimed that Mr Shehbaz had reque­sted the investigators not to make the contents of the interrogation public. “Shehbaz requested to keep the questionnaire confidential from the public,” he said.

The FIA further said Mr Shehbaz had evaded queries related to his family businesses and money laundering. He told the investigators that his son Suleman, who is in London, looked after their family businesses. He also bragged about some of the major development works he had carried out in Punjab during his tenures as the chief minister, according to the FIA.

Upon his “unsatisfactory” replies, the FIA had decided to summon Mr Shehbaz again.

The FIA had booked the former chief minister of Punjab and his sons, Hamza and Suleman, under sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 34 and 109 (financial fraud, impersonation and forgery) of the Pakistan Penal Code and 5(2) and 5(3) (criminal misconduct) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and read with 3/4 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

According to the FIA, its sugar investigation team in Lahore, while conducting a criminal investigation with respect to Al-Arabia Sugar Mills Ltd/Ramzan Sugar Mills Ltd and the Shehbaz family-owned business entities, discovered over Rs25 billion deposited from 2008 to 2018 in the bank accounts opened/operated in the names of peons and clerks of the sugar mills when Shehbaz held the Punjab CM’s office.

The agency claimed to posses “credible evidence” of over Rs25bn (including gratifications from sources extraneous to sugar business) in the accounts opened and operated in the name of low-wage employees of the Shehbaz family sugar mills.

It further said the money received from the accounts of low-wage employees by Shehbaz was transferred outside Pakistan via hundi/hawala networks, ultimately destined for beneficial use of his family members.

Mr Hamza, the opposition leader in Punjab Assembly, had also appeared twice before the FIA last month and recorded his statement in connection with the Rs25bn money laundering charges against him and his family members.

The FIA also served a show-cause notice to the opposition leader in provincial assembly and forewarned him to comply with its order till August 1 or face confiscation of his properties.

PML-N Deputy Secretary General Atta Tarar told the media later that Shehbaz and Hamza had submitted their replies to all the FIA questions related to the sugar inquiry.

“Imran Khan Niazi had given NRO (relief, referring to the National Reconciliation Ordinance) to Jahangir Tareen and federal minister Khusro Bakhtiar in the sugar scam. The PTI government gave subsidies on sugar, whereas Shehbaz Sharif during his tenure as chief minister denied the facility. This and other cases against the PML-N leadership have been instituted at the behest of Imran Niazi and his adviser Shahzad Akbar,” Mr Tarar alleged and asked Mr Akbar to resign after the court’s ruling on the “fake” cases instituted by the National Accountability Bureau.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2021

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