A special court in Lahore on Saturday confirmed Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz's pre-arrest bails in a Rs16 billion money laundering case registered against them by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
It directed them to submit bail bonds of Rs1 million each.
The court also confirmed the pre-arrest bails of other suspects in the case and directed them to submit bail bonds of Rs200,000 each.
In the hearing earlier today, the investigation officer informed the court that neither he nor the previous IO had submitted a fresh report requiring Shehbaz and Hamza's custody.
It contradicted FIA Prosecutor Farooq Bajwa's statement, who had confirmed to the court during the last hearing that the agency wanted to arrest the leaders.
Presiding Judge of the Special Court (Central-I), Ijaz Hassan Awan, had extended Shehbaz and Hamza's interim bails in the case till June 11 (today) during the last hearing. Both leaders appeared in court for today as well.
At the outset of the hearing, the FIA submitted a report about non-bailable arrest warrants issued for three suspects, including Shehbaz's son Suleman Shehbaz, Malik Maqsood and Tahir Naqvi.
The report stated that the warrants could not be executed since Suleman was not present at his address and had gone abroad. In addition, the FIA had written a letter to the relevant agency for verification of Maqsood's death, according to the report.
The same was stated by FIA Prosecutor Bajwa who informed the court that the agency had written to Interpol in connection with Maqsood's death.
The judge then directed the FIA to submit a verified report. He also made a newspaper clipping about the death part of the court proceedings.
Shehbaz addresses court
PM Shehbaz, while addressing the court, said the FIA's case was similar to another one registered against him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
There are cases related to the Ashiana Housing scheme and the Ramazan Sugar Mill against me, he said. When the judge asked Shehbaz whether he had any shares in those businesses, the premier responded in the negative.
"In the Ashiana case, it was alleged that I had misused my authority. The Lahore High Court (LHC) has given a detailed verdict in my cases. The NAB approached the Supreme Court for revocation of my bail and the then chief justice asked where the proof of corruption was.
"The NAB ran away from there," Shehbaz claimed.
The premier told the court that FIA had approached him twice when he was in NAB's custody but he had told them he would not respond without consulting his lawyer.
"I told them all facts verbally. My cases were decided on merit and I was freed. Honour is also a man's asset. Extremely serious allegations were levelled against me."
Shehbaz also said he had appeared in several hearings related to the FIA case but the agency had not submitted a challan (investigation report) because it wanted to "create a path for arrest".
"If I wanted to do money laundering or corruption, I would have taken the benefits I was entitled to legally. If I wanted to blacken my face with money laundering, why would I cause losses to my family's sugar mills [during my tenure as chief minister]?"
The premier said he had not given sugar mills subsidies so as to not burden the national exchequer, adding that he had protected Punjab's treasury instead of wasting it.
"My sons had set up factories for ethanol production but I imposed a tax on them," he continued. The previous PTI government had removed that tax, he added.
"I do not have anything to do with the sugar business. All facts stated by the FIA are incorrect." He also outlined programmes announced during his tenure as CM, including giving Bolan vans to unemployed people. "We got the car company to give a discount of Rs2.5bn and benefitted the national treasury.
"The day of judgement will arrive but the FIA will not be able to prove even a rupee worth of corruption," he insisted. "I went abroad 60 times; I have never taken a salary or petrol [allowance]. I did not take government benefits.
"The FIA is alleging that I have taken Rs20 million in lieu of party funds but I have let go of tens of millions."
FIA prosecutor's arguments
Meanwhile, FIA Prosecutor Bajwa informed the court that one of the suspects, Gulzar, had deposited Rs20m in lieu of party funds. "These are political figures. When cases are registered against them, evidence is collected in this way."
He recalled that the court had asked the FIA whether it had direct evidence. "We have two checks from 2013 and 2015 that were deposited by Gulzar."
Bajwa contended that it could not happen that the investigation report had been submitted while the pre-arrest bail matter was going on. "Whatever evidence the FIA has collected is not mala fide. We have collected as much evidence as we could. Masroor Anwar and Usman were not made part of the investigation."
Subsequently, the court reserved its verdict on the pre-arrest bail applications.
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 Rs16bn 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), it claimed. 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.