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February 12, 2020

Money laundering, assets beyond means: LHC rejects post-arrest bail of Hamza Shahbaz

National

February 12, 2020

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition filed by Leader of Opposition in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz seeking post-arrest bail in a case relating to money laundering and assets beyond means filed by the NAB against him, ruling that Hamza failed to give satisfactory proof regarding his sources of income.

The high court's decision comes days after it granted post-arrest bail to Hamza in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case on Thursday. At the outset of hearing, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, the head of a two-member bench, asked Hamza’s lawyer what the allegations against Hamza were to which Salman Aslam Butt said the NAB had claimed that Hamza's assets increased illegally. But his counsel argued that under the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Act 2010, the NAB couldn't act against Hamza. Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem was the other member of the bench.

The counsel explained that money laundering laws did not apply to Hamza as they were introduced after he had allegedly committed the crime, adding that the money in question was transferred into his accounts before the money laundering laws were introduced. He pointed out that Hamza received Rs 108 million as gift from his father, brother Salman Shahbaz and sister during 2013 and 2017. He added that the money had nothing to do with NAB allegations as Hamza was accused of money laundering which, in fact, did not fall under the NAB jurisdiction.

When asked by the court why the money laundering law is not applicable to the instant case, Butt replied that the first ordinance against money laundering was introduced in 2007, which lapsed in 90 days. The second ordinance was introduced in 2009, and the actual law against money laundering was introduced in 2010 whereas the alleged crime proceed was done before it.

The court remarked that if it accepts the applicant’s point of view, the anti-money laundering law would stand redundant. The court questioned the lawyer how could he say that the anti-money laundering law is not applicable when it was introduced in 2007. To which Hamza’s counsel said the money laundering laws will be applicable when a crime is committed and the same has not happened in this case.

Justice Naqvi, however, noted that Hamza's father, former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, was a three-time public office-holder, to which Hamza replied that he himself was never in any such position. And it matters a lot, the court added.

Butt said the NAB chairman had illegally issued arrest warrants of Hamza as the NAB could only appoint an investigation officer to probe money laundering allegations. He stated the NAB had initiated proceedings against Hamza on the basis of Financial Monitoring Unit’s report after a lapse of 10 years whereas under the relevant law it could be done within 5 years. When the court inquired regarding the increase in Hamza's personal accounts over the years, the NAB prosecutor said there was an increase of more than Rs 400 million in the said accounts from 2009 till 2018.

Hamza's counsel said NAB was sharing the increase over the past 15 years, adding that he wanted to assist the court in this matter.

The court inquired if the money had been deposited directly into Hamza's personal accounts, to which the prosecutor responded in the affirmative. When the LHC asked Hamza's lawyer to share the source of increase in his client's assets and name of persons who sent money from abroad, Butt kept on saying that every detail had been provided in the accused's income tax returns. He added that Hamza had never received bribe or kickbacks. The court against asked him whether it was the money sent from abroad by the co-accused namely Qasim Qayyum, Fazal Dad Abbasi and Shoaib Qamar, adding that if father, brother or sister had gifted money, even then their sources of income would have to be disclosed.

In his counter arguments, NAB prospector Faisal Raza Bukhari shared details of Shahbaz Sharif's family assets, alleging that the money kept flowing into the accounts of Hamza and his family. He pointed out that the Shahbaz family had assets worth Rs 50.365 million in 1999 that sprawled to Rs 683.335 million in 2009 and increased to Rs 3.30 billion in 2017, without justifiable sources of income.

Hamza fraudulently showed foreign remittance worth Rs 180 million as sources which were found fictitious during the course of investigation. Whereas assets of the remaining amount (Rs 388.60m 180m = Rs 208.60 m) of Rs 208 million were acquired subsequently with the funds received by Hamza from various companies established by him and his co-accused Salman Shahbaz and others. He said the NAB traced three persons who sent money to Hamza while two others became approver, adding that Hamza used the national identification card of Mehboob Elahi for money laundering. Later Mehboob stated that he did not even know Hamza. “Qasim Qayyum promised to send me to perform Umra and got a copy of my ID card, he said, adding that neither was he sent for Umra nor his ID card copy was returned.

After hearing arguments of both sides, the court rejected Hamza’s bail which disappointed a large number of party workers gathered in and outside the courtroom. The PML-N leader had been arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in June last.