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August 4, 2020

Money-laundering: Sharif Group CFO held, remanded in NAB custody till 17th

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August 4, 2020

LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has arrested Sharif Group of Companies Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Mohammad Usman and got his physical remand till August 17, according to official sources.

NAB informed an accountability court on Monday that Usman had been handling an organised system of money-laundering on the instructions of former chief minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and his sons — Hamza and Suleman.

NAB produced CFO Usman before the court to obtain his physical remand. As per NAB, Usman was arrested on Sunday. However, Usman told the judge he was arrested on Saturday. As the hearing commenced, the bureau’s prosecutor Waris AliJanjua briefed the court about details of investigation of assets beyond means and money laundering against Shahbaz and his sons.

The prosecutor stated that the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU), Government of Pakistan, had forwarded a report to NAB dated January 12, 2018 regarding suspicious transaction reports/ cash transaction reports (STR/ CTR) in the bank accounts of accused Shahbaz Sharif, his family members and the business entities, owned by them, after which an inquiry was authorised.

Later, the said inquiry was upgraded into an investigation titled “Investigation against Shahbaz Sharif (ex-CM Punjab), Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, Suleman Shahbaz Sharif and others (Assets disproportionate to known sources of income and money laundering),” prosecutor added.

The prosecutor informed the court that the investigation conducted so far revealed that accused Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Shahbaz, Suleman Shahbaz and other family members/ benamidars accumulated assets which were disproportionate to their known sources of income to the tune of Rs7,328 million.

The accused persons, in order to justify the acquisition of disproportionate assets, created fake sources of income including foreign remittances, arranged under fake identities and fake loans from employees/ associates. The said fake sources of income were created through a well-organised system of money laundering in connivance with various accused persons ranging from money-changers to employees, Janjua added. The prosecutor said the evidence collected during investigation revealed that the accused CFO aided and abetted the Sharif family by managing a network for laundering funds disproportionate to the known sources of income of Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Shahbaz, Suleman Shahbaz and other family members.

The prosecutor stated that Muhammad Usman joined the Sharif Group of Companies in the year 2005 as General Manager (M/s Ramzan Sugar Mills Ltd). He alleged that the accused, on the instructions of co-accused Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza and Suleman, was handling the organised system of money laundering. Moreover, he was involved in layering of unexplained funds of accused Shahbaz Sharif and his co-accused family members by operating proxy bank accounts of accused persons, held in the name of different employees. After which his arrest warrants were issued by NAB chairman on April 3, 2019 and that arrest warrants were executed on August 2, 2020, bureau’s legal officer added.

The prosecutor said at the time of arrest, the accused was informed about the grounds, circumstances and basis on which he was arrested. The prosecutor argued that the accused was involved in the acts of corruption and corrupt practices as defined under Section 9(a) of NAO.1999 and by way of aiding and abetting other co-accused persons.

The accused not only emerged as an aide and abettor as defined under section 9(a)(xii) of the NAO 1999, but also as a money launderer as defined under Section 3 of the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Act, 2010, the prosecutor added.

He requested the court to grant 15-day physical custody of the accused. On the other hand, the counsel for Usman argued before the court that his client was arrested on political grounds. The counsel argued that NAB on July 28, through a press release, had informed the media that its chairman had approved the said reference for filing in an accountability court. After that announcement, it is beyond understanding that why his client had been arrested, counsel added. Usman’s counsel further argued that at the time of arrest, his client was not informed why he had been arrested.

The judge asked Usman when and from where he was arrested. To which the accused replied that he was arrested on Friday while he was travelling on Multan Road. “I was informed about my grounds of arrest on Sunday night,” Usman added. However, NAB prosecutor reiterated that Usman was provided in writing the reasons for his arrest.

Accountability Court Judge Amjad Nazir Chaudhry handed over Usman to NAB on 14-day physical remand. The court asked NAB to produce the accused in the court on Aug 17, along with the investigation report.

Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) leader Ata Tarar, after the hearing, told the media Usman’s arrest was not registered in daily diary of NAB and it was documented after the news of Usman’s arrest went on air.

He said Usman was arrested in violation of the apex court orders. Tarar alleged that NAB was working on the directions of Imran Khan. NAB had dual standards as it had closed inquiry against offshore companies of Zulfi Bukhari, Tarar claimed. He said that NAB was targeting the PML-N and Sharif family.