LAHORE: A special court (Central-I) on Saturday delayed the indictment of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz in a money laundering case as the defence counsel continued his arguments against the charge sheet submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Mr Shehbaz and Mr Hamza appeared before the special court bench amid strict security arrangements.

At the outset, Presiding Judge Ijaz Hassan Awan asked the defence counsel and other lawyers if they had faced any difficulty in reaching the court due to security arrangements. The lawyers expressed their satisfaction over the arrangements. It may be recalled that at the last hearing of the case the judge and lawyers had reached the court late because of tight security.

FIA’s special prosecutor Farooq Bajwa informed the court that arrest warrants issued against three proclaimed offenders (POs), including Suleman Sheh­baz, the prime minister’s other son, had not been served as the suspects were not available on their given addresses.

The other POs are Malik Maqsood Ahmad and Syed Tahir Naqvi.

The judge noted that the report filed by the investigating officer was conflicting as on the one hand it claimed that the address of 41-D, Model Town, did not exist, but on the other it said Suleman Shehbaz was out of the country.

The prosecutor said the IO would submit a fresh report after ensuring service of the warrants on the available addresses of the POs.

Advocate Amjad Pervez, the defence counsel, argued that Mr Shehbaz had no link to any of the bank accounts as had been alleged by the FIA. He said the onus to prove a relation between a suspect and the alleged benamidar was on the prosecution.

He said the FIA could not produce a single witness over the last 10 years to establish any relation of the alleged bank accounts with Mr Shehbaz.

He said that even if the story of the prosecution was to be believed it claimed that the bank accounts had been opened for Mr Suleman.

The counsel said the FIA alleged that Malik Maqsood, a peon at the Ramzan Sugar Mills, received an amount of Rs3 billion in his bank account. Denying the allegation, he said, 98 per cent transactions made in the bank account of Maqsood were not cash but transfer entries.

He said the record showed that Maqsood used to file his tax returns every year and the total amount received in his account was not more than Rs50 million. He argued that the prosecution needed to prove a criminal act even if the peon was a benamidar.

Advocate Pervez said the challan submitted by the FIA was nothing more than a story and it was based on assumptions.

Earlier, PM Shehbaz personally spoke in his defence with the court’s permission. He said that he used to bear his travelling expenses both in international and domestic travels from his personal pocket over his 12-year stint as the chief minister.

The prime minister further said that his decisions as the chief minister caused a huge loss to the business of his family. Mr Shehbaz and Mr Hamza were allowed to leave after their attendance was marked.

The judge adjourned the hearing till June 4 and also extended the pre-arrest bail of Mr Shehbaz and Mr Hamza.

The FIA booked Mr Sharif and his sons Mr Hamza and Mr Suleman in November 2020 under sections 419,420,468, 471, 34 and 109 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, read with Section 3/4 of Anti-Money Laundering Act.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2022

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