A special court in Lahore Wednesday acquitted Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz in the Rs16 billion money laundering case.
The Special Court, Central, reserved the verdict on the acquittal pleas of PM Shahbaz and Hamza earlier today.
The court had summoned PM Shahbaz and Hamza at 12 noon today after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) prosecutor informed the court that no money was directly deposited in the accounts of the father-son duo; however, both the leaders did not appear before the court.
Their lawyer filed a request for exemption from appearance as the prime minister was busy with official engagements and Hamza was unwell.
Shahbaz and Hamza both had moved acquittal applications before the court on which their counsel almost completed his arguments on Tuesday. As the hearing commenced, an application seeking a one-time exemption from personal appearance was moved on behalf of Shahbaz, which was accepted by the court.
During today's hearing, FIA prosecutor Farooq Bajwa opposed acquitting the suspects, saying that Hamza and Shehbaz are allegedly involved in the Rs16 billion money laundering case.
"We want this case to proceed. The case should go on till the suspects have been indicted," the prosecutor urged.
However, Special Court Judge Ejaz Awan noted that the FIA has failed to produce "concrete evidence" in the challan submitted before the court against the suspects. Following this, the court acquitted the suspects.
In the previous hearing, special court judge asked about the number of bank accounts owned by the Malik Maqsood — also known as Maqsood Chaprasi.
The FIA prosecutor responded that late Maqsood had eight bank accounts to his name.
The prosecutor further stated that no money was either directly deposited or withdrawn from the accounts of the suspects, including Shahbaz and Hamza.
The judge asked what evidence was there to substantiate that the entire money dealing was being done at Hamza’s behest.
In response, FIA's prosecutor said the agency does not have "any evidence" linking him to money laundering.
After the verdict's announcement, the prime minister thanked God for his acquittal and termed the case against him "fake, baseless, and based on political vengeance".
"No matter how much I thank God enough for this, it won't be enough," he said in a tweet.
PM Shahbaz said that "despite the worst practices, use of state force, and holding institutions hostage," he still triumphed.
In a statement, the former chief minister said the verdict marks the victory of "truth, righteousness, and honesty".
"In this politically motivated case, I was kept behind bars for almost 22 months, but despite that, we fought the case vigorously," Hamza said.
"The nation's money was wasted, and the reputation of institutions was also damaged due to the cases lodged on Imran Khan's directions," the PML-N leader said.
Hamza said that before Pakistani courts, the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency also gave a clean chit to PM Shahbaz.
"The actual money launderer is Imran Niazi, who received funds through a 'tea boy'. He is a certified foreign-funded [politician], who will now have to face the courts," he added.
Felicitating PM Shahbaz and Hamza, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Ata Tarar said that with this verdict the “narrative of vindictive accountability of the Imran-era has been buried.”
“Where is [Khan's former aide on accountability] Shahzad Akbar?” he questioned during a press conference.
In December 2021, the FIA submitted the challan against Shahbaz and Hamza before the special court for their alleged involvement in laundering an amount of Rs16 billion in the sugar scam case.
According to the FIA report submitted to the court, the investigation team has "detected 28 benami accounts of the Shahbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3 billion was committed during 2008-18. The FIA examined the money trail of 17,000 credit transactions."
The report added that the amount was kept in "hidden accounts" and given to Shahbaz personally.
This amount (Rs16 billion) has nothing to do with the sugar business (of the Shahbaz family), it claimed. The money received from the accounts of low-wage employees by Shahbaz 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.
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