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November 5, 2019

CSM money laundering case: Maryam gets bail on merit, not humanitarian ground

November 5, 2019

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday granted post-arrest bail to Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills (CSM) money-laundering case.

The court directed her to deposit purportedly withdrawn amount of Rs70 million and surrender her passport to show her bona fide, as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) feared she could flee the country.

Maryam’s counsel told the media she was granted bail on merit, not humanitarian grounds. She can take part in political activities also. A two-member LHC bench, comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem, announced the verdict, which was reserved on Oct 31.

“Since the prosecution (NAB) has shown the bank statement of the account No 0149056661004053 of the petitioner (Maryam), in which on 28-11-2011 vide cheque No 39438534, Rs7 crores were withdrawn, and the prosecution has apprehension of fleeing away of the petitioner; therefore, to satisfy our judicial conscience, we would pass a conditional order,” said the 24-page written order.

The PML-N leader would be released from jail after furnishing of two suretybonds, worth Rs10 million each in the trial court, and depositing of an additional amount of Rs70 million and surrendering of her passport in the LHC.

Deciding the charge of abetment, aiding and conniving against the petitioner in acquisition of assets beyond means, the bench observed that the analysis of suspicious transaction report (STR), which led to the impugned inquiry, reflected transfer of money from the account of former prime minister to the CSM, but the name of the petitioner (Ms Nawaz) did not appear anywhere.

The court elaborated: “We allow this petition and admit the petitioner (Maryam) to get post-arrest bail subject to furnishing of surety bonds in the sum of Rs10 million with two sureties each in the like amount to the satisfaction of the learned trial court, and to establish her bona fide, she would also deposit amount of Rs7 crore with the deputy registrar (judicial) of the court besides submitting her passport(s) with him.”

The court ruled that withdrawal of Rs7 crore, as alleged by NAB, could not be termed ill-gotten money or an asset beyond known sources of income since the source of money was shown in the official record of the Chaudhry Sugar Mills with reference to foreign investment.

These two important foundations do not prima facie expose the name of petitioner directly to suggest that she actively participated, connived, abetted or aided to acquire assets disproportionate to her known sources of income, since no connection of the petitioner was established with the said foreign nationals in order to persuade them to invest in M/s CSML to attract the provisions of NAO, 1999 and AMLA 2010.

“Question of making layers and becoming beneficial also requires further probe since it is not the prosecution case that investment in the real estate in the UAE was out of some crime proceeds in the form of ill-gotten money.

“It is also not the prosecution case that said money coming from the UAE was black money having origin from some crime proceeds of internationally recognised crimes like terrorism, etc.

“With respect to huge amount transferred by nationals of UAE as consideration for shares in the CSM, the bench observed that the absence of a direct mention of petitioner in report did not suggest that she actively participated, connived, abetted or aided to acquire assets beyond known sources of income.

“No connection of the petitioner was established with the said foreign nationals in order to persuade them to invest in the mills to attract the provisions of National Accountability Ordinance 1999 & Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010,” it added.

“Undoubtedly, attracting foreign investment has always been a perennial demand of every government and all governments would dream of it, but great hurdles were always faced by them to make it a reality.”

The bench dismissed an argument by the petitioner that she was minor at the time of incorporation of the CSML in 1981; therefore, she could not be held responsible for any such transaction. It said the allegations against her pertained to year 2008 and onward when she was not only major but also shareholder with increased shareholding.

“The CSML never remained as a subject of discussion in Panama case; therefore, NAB can possibly probe and investigate into the matter and the question of double jeopardy would not prime facie arise in favour of Maryam.”

However, as far as the ownership of share of Nasser Abdullah Hussain Lootah, a UAE national is concerned, the official record pertaining to SECP does not show that he was not the shareholder, therefore, his denial of this fact mentioned needs further probe, the order said.

However, the bench said as far as the ownership of shares of UAE national Nasser Abdullah Hussain Lootah was concerned, the official record of the Security & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) did not show that he was not the shareholder.

It noted that Mr Lootah admitted before NAB that he sent the money out of investment made by the petitioner’s family in real estate on their instructions back to them though he did not own any share in M/s CSML.

“In our considered view, the petitioner has prima facie shown her money trail linked to the said foreigners, leaving the prosecution to further probe into the matter of the allegation against the petitioner,” said the bench.

The bench remarked that the trial court could decide the fate of a statement of Mr Lootah, recorded before a magistrate in absence of the petitioner and her counsel without permitting the right to cross-examine.

Furthermore, it observed the amount of US$4.885 million sent to co-suspect Yousaf Abbas by Mr Lootah as a profit/ investment from real estate made by the family of the petitioner would shift the onus back to the prosecution to prove it as a dubious transaction.

The bench also noted that statements of three other UAE nationals had not so far been recorded by the prosecution, who were also mentioned as shareholder of the CSM, calling for further probe into the guilt of the petitioner.

It observed the implication of Section 3 of Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010 required some nexus with crime proceeds; therefore, a further investigation will be required to attract the ingredients of this section in the instant case.

“It is true that corruption and corrupt practices are rampant in our society; therefore, they needed to be curbed with an iron hand. But at the same time, this court cannot keep its eyes off the legal proposition that bail cannot be withheld as a punishment since this court would otherwise transgress into the power of the trial court to return its finding upon guilt on the basis of evidence,” the order further said.

The bench also rejected an argument of the prosecution against the jurisdiction of the court to hear the bail petition under its constitutional jurisdiction of Article 199.

The bench left unanswered the point of “humanitarian ground” taken by the petitioner for the interim bail so as to see her ailing hospitalised father as the same had not been pressed by her counsel.

NAB had arrested Maryam on Aug 8 from Kot Lakhpat jail, where she had gone to meet her imprisoned father Nawaz Sharif. She remained in NAB custody for 48 days on physical remand and in jail for 41 days on judicial remand.