LAHORE: Legal experts believe that establishing an amount as proceeds of crime are essential to proving money-laundering charge against any individual. They said the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has failed to establish the same against Shehbaz Sharif and family in the challan submitted before the court.
The lawyers, having expertise in handling the money-laundering cases, consider the FIA’s charge sheet (challan) against Shehbaz family a fragile document that has loopholes regarding money in question as it has not established the alleged amount was proceeds of a crime. It has not been proved the money was laundered by Shehbaz Sharif and his family, and none of the transactions took place in the accounts of Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz.
The FIA, in November 2020, had registered an FIR against PMLN President Shehbaz Sharif, his sons Hamza Shehbaz and Salman Shehbaz and other family members. Later, a challan was submitted in January 2022 in the light of the same FIR. The FIA claimed Rs16 billion of alleged crime proceeds, which purportedly accumulated by using 28 alleged benami accounts opened in the names of low-wage employees of Ramzan Sugar Mills (RSM), in fact belonged to three principal accused – two former chief ministers of Punjab – Shehbaz Sharif, Hamza Shehbaz and Suleman Shehbaz. The FIA team had detected 57 high turnover alleged benami accounts having over 55000 inward and outward transactions from 2008 to 2018. Out of those, the FIA team only investigated 28 benami accounts which were opened/operated in the name of low-wage employees of Sharif Group.
The FIA further claimedover 17, 300 credit transactions amounting to Rs16.36 billion into these 28 accounts were analysed to identify inward money trail of deposits. Over 9,500 counter-party details amounting to Rs10 billion credit transactions were obtained from the respective banks.
The FIA charged Shehbaz Sharif under Section 5 (1) (a), 5 (1) (d) and 5 (1) (e) read with Section 5 (3), 5 (2) and Section 5-C of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) 1947 and Section 3 and 4 of Anti-Money-Laundering Act (AMLA) 2010 and Hamza Shehbaz under sections 5 (1) (e) read with Section 5 (3), 5 (2), Section 5-C of PCA 1947 and sections 3 and 4 of the AMLA 2010 being CEO of Ramzan Sugar Mills from 2008-18.
As Suleman Shehbaz is an absconder in this case, the FIA in the challan stated that his guilt would be determined upon his arrest. However, the evidence suggested he aided and abetted his brother Hamza Shehbaz, hence was found guilty of the same offences, the FIA contended.
The FIA submitted a list of 100 prosecution witnesses, out of which 64 deposited around Rs65 million into the alleged benami accounts. The FIA, though, didn’t say the amount was from any kickback or corruption, rather were the payments against certain businesses. None of witnesses accused Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza of taking bribery, the challan said. Advocate Adnan Shuja Butt, who is a senior lawyer and has vast experience in handling money-laundering cases, while talking to The News said the FIA has poorly investigated a case which doesn’t fall in its domain. He said the FIA’s report didn’t mention any crime proceeds and, at most, it could be considered under Sales Tax or Income Tax Ordinance if any wrongdoing has been made related to tax matters.
Shuja further said the FIA didn’t establish Rs16 billion deposited into the alleged 28 benami accounts by depositors was proceeds of crimes/kickbacks against Shehbaz Sharif and his family, which is a prerequisite to establishing the charge of money-laundering.
Shuja said the FIA had to establish the proceeds of crime and that the crime was committed by Shehbaz Sharif and other accused. The FIA was bound to complete the investigation so as to connect proceeds of crime with the accused (beneficiaries) through money trail.
However, the agency failed to connect the events in sequence so as to make it a provable case of money-laundering, Shuja maintained. He said the FIA couldn’t establish 28 accounts were benami accounts of the Sharifs. The challan neither mentioned the origin and destination of the money, nor its users/beneficiaries.
Without establishing bribery/corruption of Shehbaz Sharif or Hamza Shehbaz, being public officeholders, the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) 1947 could not be applied, and no banker and government official was made co-accused in the case, Shuja said.
Amjad Parvez, attorney of Shehbaz Sharif and his son, while talking to The News said they were assisting the court on the document (challan) which was submitted by the investigation team constituted by the former government. He said the FIA has narrated a story from ‘Arabian Nights’ which had nothing to do with reality. He said on the next hearing, they were going to read statements of witnesses which were recorded under 161 Criminal Procedure Code, for none of those had anything against his clients with regard to bribery and kickbacks.
He said the FIA had no evidence on paper related to proceeds of crime, and without proceeds of crime, the money-laundering act could not be applied. He further said if an employee of a company owned by a son deposits any amount in the account of father and amount in question was not proceeds of crime, there was no case.
He said his client Shehbaz Sharif had declared each and every penny in his tax returns along with source of income and the same has been audited. He said they have assisted the court that there is no evidence of corruption and kickbacks against his clients Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz.
He said to understand the case better, the judgment of the court is an important document which was issued on confirmation of pre-arrest bails of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz. The Special Court Central, in its detailed order of confirmation of pre-arrest bail of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz, had stated in June “prima facie no evidence of corruption, misuse of authority and bribery” was so far found on record against the father-son duo in alleged money-laundering case against them. The order stated the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had mala fide intentions, as it wanted to arrest Prime Minister and Chief Minister after they secured bail in the National Accountability Bureau’s cases.
The order further said the statements of 64 people recorded in the case who had deposited the amount which amounts to Rs60.7 million and not Rs16 billion as claimed by the FIA. It added that in the statements of the 64 depositors, none mentioned the names of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz. “Moreover, said statements do not spell out any bribery, kickbacks or commission”, the order said.
The court added that although Hamza Shehbaz was the CEO of the Ramazan Sugar Mills, the prosecution was unable to prove the accounts used to launder money were opened on his orders. Amjad said 95 percent of transactions were conducted through proper banking channel and not a single penny had been transferred to Shehbaz and Hamza through the accounts which the FIA claims were “benami” accounts.
The Special FIA prosecutor Farooque Bajwa, who is representing the FIA in this case, while talking to The News said circumstantial evidence is important in money-laundering cases, and during the trial, evidence of more than 100 witnesses will establish how the Sharif family benefited from “benami” accounts. He added the prosecution will oppose the acquittal plea of Shehbaz and Hamza, and will try to make it to the trial.