The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has decided not to prosecute Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz in the Rs16 billion money laundering case, according to a letter written by the special prosecutor which is now part of the case record.
According to a written application, dated April 11, 2022, submitted in court, the FIA director general (DG), via the investigating officer, told Special Prosecutor Sikander Zulqarnain Saleem not to appear in court as the "accused in the case are going to be elected the prime minister of Pakistan and chief minister of Punjab".
"The concerned quarters are not interested to prosecute the accused persons," it stated, requesting that these instructions be made part of the case record.
Earlier this week, FIA former director Mohammad Rizwan, who probed the charges against Shehbaz and his son, died of a heart attack.
The FIA had booked PM Shehbaz and his sons, Hamza and Suleman, in November 2020 under sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 34 and 109 of Prevention of Corruption Act and read with 3/4 of Anti Money Laundering Act. Suleman Shehbaz is absconding in the UK.
Fourteen others had also been named in the FIR under sections 5(2) and 5(3) (criminal misconduct) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The special court had on Jan 27 granted pre-arrest bail to Shehbaz and Hamza in the case.
After the agency submitted its request April 11, the court took the application on record and annexed it with the case.
FIA issues rebuttal, claims case 'not withdrawn'
The FIA has issued a press release repudiating the development, saying that the "case has not been withdrawn" and court proceedings were ongoing, with the next hearing on May 14.
The watchdog warned it could take legal action against those involved in proliferating the news regarding the letter.
"On April 11, the prosecutor of the case submitted his opinion-based application in the court regarding change of the prosecutor, wherein he was instructed not to appear on behalf of prosecution. He mentioned the investigation officer through the then DG FIA. He was allegedly asked for not appearing as a prosecutor. It was not a withdrawal application," the press release insisted.
It added that Sanaullah Abbasi was the FIA DG at the time and the new prime minister had not yet taken the oath when the application was submitted in court.
"Tahir Rai was appointed as FIA DG on April 22. This matter pertains to the timing before his arrival in the FIA, the press release said.
The agency stated that the change of prosecutor was a "routine matter" and the same had been done several times in the same case by the previous government as well.
Meanwhile, Saleem said that the prosecution was stopped from appearing in the case as Shehbaz and Hamza had assumed public office now. "FIA officials have expressed no interest in the trial against Shehbaz, Hamza and others," he added.
During the previous hearing, the court had instructed the premier and others to ensure their presence at the next hearing as no further adjournments would be made.
"It is made clear that on [the] next date of hearing, charge[s] shall be framed and all the accused shall ensure their personal attendance," the written order had said.
PTI lashes out
PTI leaders lashed out at the development with the party's Punjab president Shafqat Mahmood saying it was "expected" that the prime minister and his son would be "whitewashing their sins".
Shireen Mazari, too, questioned who the "concerned authorities" were that were not interested in pursuing the case.
Charges against Shehbaz, Hamza
The FIA had in December 2021 submitted the challan against Shehbaz and Hamza to a special court for their alleged involvement in laundering an amount of Rs16 billion in the sugar scam case.
"The investigation team has detected 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3bn was committed during 2008-18. The FIA examined the money trail of 17,000 credit transactions," according to an FIA report submitted to the court.
The amount was kept in "hidden accounts" and given to Shehbaz in a personal capacity, the report added.
This amount (Rs16bn) has nothing to do with the sugar business (of the Shehbaz family). The money received from the accounts of low-wage employees by Shehbaz was transferred outside Pakistan via hundi/hawala networks, ultimately destined for the beneficial use of his family members, the FIA had alleged.
"Eleven low-paid employees of the Sharif group who 'held and possessed' the laundered proceeds on behalf of the principal accused, are found guilty of facilitating money laundering. The three other co-accused of the Sharif group also actively facilitated the money laundering," the agency had said.
Correction: An earlier version of the story erroneously stated that the FIA prosecutor's letter was written on May 11, three day before the court was to indict PM Shehbaz and Punjab CM Hamza on May 14. The letter was actually dated April 11. The error is regretted.