Govt, PML-N clash over UK court’s order on Sharifs

Published September 28, 2021
A combination photo of PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif (R) and his son, Suleman Shehbaz (L). — AFP/APP
A combination photo of PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif (R) and his son, Suleman Shehbaz (L). — AFP/APP

• Unfreezing of Shehbaz, son’s bank accounts ordered
• Shahzad Akbar dismisses reports the duo have been acquitted of money laundering charges
• PML-N claims family exonerated of ‘malicious’ corruption, money laundering charges

LAHORE: A UK court has ordered unfreezing of the bank accounts of PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif and his son Suleman Shehbaz after the country’s National Crime Agency (NCA) did not find evidence regarding ‘suspicious bank transactions’ against them.

According to news reports, the NCA had conducted a 17-month long probe in which it examined Shehbaz Sharif’s financial transactions over the past 20 years.

It said that no evidence of money laundering or criminal activities against the PML-N president or his family was found.

The NCA submitted the investigation report to the Westminster court in which it said that Shehbaz and his son were not involved in money laundering practices in Pakistan, Dubai and the UK.

The NCA had initiated the probe after Pakistan’s Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) had shared evidence with the UK crime agency.

Shehbaz’s and his son’s bank accounts were frozen in December 2019 by the NCA following a UK court order.

The PML-N hailed the decision, calling it an embarrassment for Prime Minister Imran Khan who peddled the corruption and money laundering allegations against the Sharif family.

While reacting to the development, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, adviser to the prime minister on accountability and interior, claimed that only the bank accounts of Shehbaz and Suleman had been unfrozen following the NCA’s report and that they had not been acquitted of money laundering charges.

“Certain funds transferred by Suleman Shehbaz from Pakistan to the UK in 2019 were declared suspicious transactions by the UK authorities and NCA secured an asset freezing order (AFO) from court against these funds. However, recently NCA decided to stop investigating these funds and therefore agreed for release of these funds through court,” Akbar said in a series of tweets.

“The news about the alleged acquittal of Shehbaz Sharif or his son Suleman run by one news channel is incorrect and misreporting. It was a result of a suspicious transaction reported by a bank to NCA. The investigation by the NCA against Suleman Shehbaz and some of his family members was not initiated at the request of Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) or National Accountability Bureau (NAB),” tweeted Akbar, who had been keeping a low profile for the last couple of months.

“It is clarified that such a release order (by court) is not an acknowledgement that funds are from a legitimate source. There is no acquittal of any sort as reported (by a news channel) as there was no trial! Funds were frozen by NCA and NCA has decided to not investigate these funds anymore. Suleman Shehbaz remains a fugitive in a money laundering case against him and his father before AC LHR,” he said in another tweet.

The news channel Mr Akbar refers to claimed that the NCA submitted an investigation report on the bank transactions of Shehbaz and Suleman to the Westminster court, declaring them not guilty of “money laundering, fraud and criminal conduct”.

It further reported that the government’s ARU had written a letter to the UK government in December 2019 making serious money laundering and corruption allegations against Shehbaz and Suleman. The ARU reportedly wrote that Shehbaz and his son were involved in multiple cases in Pakistan related to money laundering and corruption. “Both father and son are involved in double criminalities,” it stated and further alleged Shehbaz and Suleman laundered money from the UK to Pakistan and later transferred back the same as white money.

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said: “The UK court’s decision has unequivocally exonerated Shehbaz Sharif and his family of all malicious and vexatious claims of corruption and money laundering by Imran Khan. The NCA conducted a 21-month global investigation spanning across a 20 year timeframe whilst overcoming unprecedented jurisdictional challenges. Never in the history of Pakistan has such a public office-holder been subjected to global scrutiny and multi-jurisdictional probing. Imran Khan has been exposed as a charlatan, willing to malign and assassinate characters of honest public office-holders. False corruption narrative exposed as nothing more than a smoke screen and Imran Khan to be an unscrupulous ringmaster of a circus built on incompetence, deceit and stained by the indignation of the innocent and the poor.”

Ms Aurangzeb further claimed that in December 2019, the NAB Lahore director general had met the NCA officials in London thereby an application had been filed by Barrister Zia Nasim, an international legal expert from the government’s ARU. “The application triggered an investigation of Shehbaz Sharif and family’s assets. Later, an email was sent to the NCA by the ARU officials to assist it with the aforementioned investigation. Furthermore, the government of Pakistan invited NCA to visit the country in 2020. These are undisputed facts, corroborated through evidence filed in the UK court. This government will fall on the weight of its own deceit and lies,” she stated.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2021

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