A Lahore accountability court on Thursday acquitted Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, his son Hamza Shehbaz and wife Nusrat Shehbaz in a Rs8 billion money laundering reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau.

The verdict was announced by Judge Qamaruz Zaman, a written order of which is yet to be issued.

The court also acquitted all others accused in the case, with the exception of the prime minister’s daughter, Rabia Imran. A perpetual arrest warrant was issued for Imran, who has been declared an absconder.

The court also issued instructions to unfreeze the properties of all of the acquitted individuals.

In May, NAB told an accountability court that it found no evidence of corruption or money laundering against PM Shehbaz, his family members and others.

A prosecutor had submitted a supplementary reference in the court at the May hearing, stating that the anti-graft body conducted a fresh investigation and found that the charges against the premier and others were found to be true.

Previously, the court had declared PM Shehbaz’s son Suleman, daughter Rabia Imran and son-in-law Haroon Yousaf, as absconders for avoiding their appearance in the case’s trial proceedings.

Suleman and Yousaf ended their self-exile last year and returned to the country after securing protective bail from the courts.

The case

In August 2020, NAB filed an Rs8 billion reference of money laundering against Shehbaz — who was the opposition leader at the time — his two sons and other family members.

In this reference, NAB alleged that the family members and benamidars of PM Shehbaz received fake foreign remittances of billions in their personal bank accounts.

In addition to these remittances, the bureau said, billions of rupees were laundered by way of foreign pay orders, which were deposited in the personal bank accounts of his sons, Hamza and Suleman.

PM Shehbaz, his elder son Hamza, and daughter Javeria Ali were indicted in the reference besides other accused persons including Fazal Dad Abbasi, Rashid Karamat, Muhammad Usman, Masroor Anwar, Nisar Ahmad, Shoaib Qamar and Qasim Qayum.

Shehbaz’s wife Nusrat was also indicted through a pleader as she was still out of the country.

NAB arrested PM Shehbaz on Sept 28, 2020, after the Lahore High Court (LHC) refused to further extend his pre-arrest bail. He remained in the NAB’s custody for 23 days till the trial court sent him on judicial remand on Oct 20, 2020.

An LHC full bench released PM Shehbaz on bail in April 2021 and observed that the former chief minister of Punjab faced no allegation of receiving kickbacks or ill-gotten money.

A special court in October 2022 had also acquitted PM Shehbaz and Hamza in the Rs16 billion money laundering case filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Allowing their acquittal applications, the court had observed that there was no probability of conviction even if the prosecution evidence collected during the investigation was recorded.

In February last, the FIA also gave a clean chit to Suleman in the money laundering case.

The agency told the trial court that it found no evidence to establish the charges of committing money laundering and receiving kickbacks against Suleman.

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