Lahore courts grant interim bail to Suleman Shehbaz in assets-beyond-means, money laundering cases

Published December 23, 2022
Suleman Shehbaz photographed outside the special court (central) in Lahore on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
Suleman Shehbaz photographed outside the special court (central) in Lahore on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

Suleman Shehbaz, son of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, was granted on Friday interim pre-arrest bail in two separate cases of money laundering and accumulating assets beyond known sources of income till January 7.

Suleman, who returned to Pakistan earlier this month after four years of self-exile in London, is an accused in a money laundering case registered with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) while the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has nominated him in an assets-beyond-means reference.

He has been declared a proclaimed offender in both cases.

Prior to his return, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had restrained the NAB and FIA from arresting him.

The IHC order was issued on Suleman's plea seeking protective bail for him to be able to surrender before a trial court and avoid arrest. He was eventually granted 14-day protective bail on December 13.

He was granted interim bail in the two cases today after he surrendered before an accountability court and a special court in Lahore and filed bail pleas.

His plea for interim bail in the NAB case was moved by his lawyer, Amjad Pervaiz, before an accountability court today after his surrender.

Subsequently, the court barred the NAB from arresting Suleman till January 7 and directed that he be included in the investigation.

The court then granted him interim-pre-arrest bail, seeking his national identity card from him and a reply on his plea from the NAB at the next hearing.

The bail was approved against surety bonds worth Rs500,000.

Earlier, Suleman also moved a special court in Lahore for pre-arrest bail in the Rs16bn million money laundering case after he surrendered before it.

The plea for his pre-arrest bail in this case was also moved by his counsel, Pervaiz, before the special court (central).

Subsequently, the court barred the FIA from arresting Suleman till January 7 and directed that he be included in the investigation.

The bail was granted against surety bonds worth Rs100,000.

The pleas

In Suleman's plea for bail in the FIA case, it was contended that the first information report with the agency on the basis of "malafide intention, ulterior motive and as preemptive measure to ensure the arrest" of the petitioner's father and brother — PM Shehbaz and PML-N leader Hamza Shehbaz — in yet another "false case", in case they were granted bail in the NAB reference.

Both pleas state that Suleman's implication in the two cases was "prompted by malafide intention and considerations extraneous to law".

In fact, the pleas added, "the whole family including the women folk was implicated for the ulterior motive of harassing, humiliating, and blackmailing.

"Indeed, its only purpose was to muffle the voice of the father (Shehbaz) of the petitioner as the then-leader of opposition in National Assembly of Pakistan and the petitioner’s brother as leader of the opposition in the provincial Assembly of Punjab."

The petitions said neither the NAB nor the FIA was able to "collect an iota of evidence" to prove money laundering and corruption charges against Shehbaz or any of his family members for a period of more than a year despite the "ruthless use of state apparatus" at their disposal.

Moreover, the plea for bail in the FIA case stated the investigation team for probe into money laundering allegations, constituted under the previous regime, "acted under the direct supervision, influence and pressure of the then-adviser for interior and accountability namely Mr Shahzad Akbar".

The plea further contended that money laundering charges in the case were "false and frivolous" and that the allegations did not "attract the mischief of any offence falling within the ambit of Federal Investigation Act, 1974 as no loss occurred to the exchequer or the Bank or even any private person".

It added that the FIA did not have the jurisdiction to proceed in the matter.

Moreover, the plea termed Sulemabn being declared a proclaimed offender in the case "illegal [...] as the petitioner had gone abroad on 27-10-2018, much before even the registration of the above noted FIR dated 14-11-2020."

Both pleas maintained that since the principal accused, Shehbaz, was granted bail in the cases and Suleman was accused of abetting him, he was entitled to the same relief.

The plea for bail in the NAB case added Suleman had never held any public office and nor had he ever been a public servant, never having ever served in any organisation or corporation setup or administered by federal government, his business affairs had never had any nexus with the public exchequer.

"Hence, no offence in terms of the prevention of corruption Act 1947 is made out against the petitioner," the plea contended.

On these grounds, the pleas sought pre-arrest bail for Suleman in both cases till the conclusion of the trials, as well as interim-pre arrest bail "in the interest of justice".

The cases

The FIA had booked 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 r/w 3/4 of Anti Money Laundering Act.

Arrest warrants had been issued for Suleman. However, in its report submitted to the court, the FIA had stated that the warrants could not be executed since Suleman was not present at his address and had gone abroad.

A trial court had also declared him a proclaimed offender, along with another suspect in a Rs16 billion money laundering case, in July this year.

According to the FIA report, the investigation team “detected 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3bn was committed from 2008-18. The FIA examined a money trail of 17,000 credit transactions.”

The report added that the amount was kept in “hidden accounts” and “given to Shehbaz in a personal capacity”.

Also in June 2020, the NAB seized Suleman’s shares amounting to Rs2billion in 16 companies along with cash worth Rs4.1 million held in three bank accounts as well as 10 marlas agricultural land and pieces of land spreading over 209 kanals.

The NAB had also alleged that assets worth Rs3.3b had been identified back then as illegally accumulated by Suleman, his brother Hamza Shehbaz and their father Shehbaz Sharif.

This was after an accountability court in Lahore declared him a proclaimed offender in October 2019 after a NAB prosecutor said the bureau had issued at least six call-up notices to the suspect, but he did not respond and fled the country to avoid investigation.

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