Shehbaz and son Hamza acquitted of money laundering charge – Pakistan

• Prosecutor asks for more time and blames investigators for ‘incomplete file’
• Defense attorney argues that allegations of benami dealings do not constitute an intended offense
• PM is grateful to have been acquitted in a ‘politically motivated case’

LAHORE: A special court on Wednesday cleared motions for acquittal filed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son, former Punjab chief minister Hamza Shehbaz, exonerating them in a Rs 16 billion money laundering case filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

The FIA ​​had booked Prime Minister Shehbaz and his sons, Hamza and Suleman, in November 2020 under sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 34 and 109 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, read with section 3/ 4 of the anti-money laundering law. Suleman and another co-suspect had previously been found guilty by the court for their consistent absence from proceedings.

Although Prime Minister Shehbaz and his son skipped Wednesday’s hearing, PML-N workers had gathered outside the courthouse in anticipation of the verdict. There was a celebration when Presiding Judge Ijaz Hassan Awan announced his brief order, which he had previously reserved after hearing closing arguments. PML-N workers chanted slogans and handed out sweets upon learning that the judge had ruled in favor of Shehbaz and Hamza.

Prime Minister Shehbaz, who is in Kazakhstan to attend a summit, expressed his gratitude to God. In a tweet, he said it was a blessing to hear of his acquittal in a “fabricated, baseless and politically motivated money laundering case”.

“We are victorious before the tribunal, the law and the people, despite [facing] brutal tactics, state oppression and manipulation of institutions,” the Prime Minister added.

Hamza also shared a tweet expressing his gratitude for his acquittal, saying, “We bravely faced the political cases brought at the behest of Imran Niazi.”

A tweet from the official PML-N handle read: “Another fabricated affair created for political victimization comes to its inevitable end, Alhumdulillah. Truly, the lie is doomed to perish as promised by the Almighty.

The pursuit fails

During the day’s proceedings, defense attorney Amjad Pervez argued that none of the prosecution witnesses named Shehbaz or Hamza in their statements recorded under Article 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

He also accused the investigator of having distorted the statements of some of the witnesses.

Referring to a case brought against Indian politician LK Advani, the lawyer argued that the court handling the case refused to accept even video statements against the defendant as evidence. He also argued that the prosecution was supposed to prove the allegations she made in her challan, but failed to do so.

FIA Special Prosecutor Farooq Bajwa in his submissions alleged that a suspect, Masroor Anwar, had been a trusted cashier for Hamza and managed Benami bank accounts for the father-son duo. He said Anwar executed four bank transactions on behalf of the suspects through the account of a deceased employee, Gulzar.

However, the prosecutor did not substantiate this allegation from the case file despite being granted 20 minutes by the trial judge for this purpose. Instead, he asked the court for more time, saying the investigator had failed to present the full case file to the court.

He concluded by arguing that the court reject the acquittal pleas filed by Shehbaz and Hamza.

Attorney Pervez said the lawsuits against the petitioners were motivated by bad faith intentions and ulterior motives. He said the filing of a series of cases in quick succession and the repeated arrests of petitioners were classic examples of the abuse of legal process at the behest of the former federal government.

He said there was no allegation of loss to the Treasury or any bank or other financial institution or even to any private person. He further stated that there was no valid evidence in the record that the funds were the proceeds of crime, which he pointed out was an essential condition for attracting the wrongdoing of an offense in under the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010.

The lawyer argued that the bulk of the prosecution’s case revolved around the exploitation of benami accounts and transactions, which was not an offense under the FIA ​​Act, the Prevention of Corruption Act or the Criminal Law Amendment Act.

He said that there was a special law in the field on the subject, namely the Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Act of 2017, which had an overriding effect over all other laws and prescribed comprehensive mechanisms for investigation, trial and punishment. He said the FIA ​​was neither the competent authority to register an FIR in this matter, nor the court had jurisdiction to try the infringement.

He argued that the court should, for these reasons, grant the petitioner’s claims and acquit him.

After the hearing ended, FIA prosecutor Bajwa told reporters in a brief interaction that the case was filed by the Pakistani government Tehreek-i-Insaf and the current prosecution team made no changes to either the hearing or the file.

Although he lost the case, he claimed the challan had enough evidence to try the suspects.

Posted in Dawn, October 13, 2022