A special court in Lahore on Monday confirmed pre-arrest bail for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz in the Rs. 16 billion money-laundering case against them, with the written order noting that “no evidence of corruption, misuse of authority, and bribery” had been found in the case presented by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
According to the written order, “cogent evidence” is not available to prove allegations of “gratification, corrupt practice, abuse of official authority, kickbacks, and commission” at this stage and requires further probe during trial. It also questioned why the detention of the two leaders was necessary if the investigation officer had not mentioned any need for the petitioners remain in custody for further probe. It noted that the investigation of the case had been completed, and the charge sheet submitted, so arrests were no longer required.
Further justifying the bail approval, the order stated that the investigation had had claimed to have 100 witnesses, but had only recorded the statements of 64, adding that the total sum deposited by them had amounted to Rs. 60.7 million and not the Rs. 16 billion alleged by the FIA. Additionally, it said, none of the statements of the 64 depositors had mentioned the names of the prime minister and the chief minister. “Moreover, said statements do not spell out any bribery, kickbacks, or commission, etc,” it added.
The order also questioned the FIA’s intent regarding the arrests of the premier and chief minister, noting that the investigation had started when both were in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). It said that both had been interrogated twice—on Dec. 18, 2020, and Jan. 8, 2021—but had no follow-up interrogations in the subsequent five months. It was only after NAB had released them that they were asked to appear before the FIA.
“This shows that the prosecution wanted to arrest them again after their release, which shows its mal intent,” the special court’s order said, adding that even though Hamza Shehbaz was the CEO of Ramazan Sugar Mills, the prosecution had been unable to prove that the accounts allegedly used to launder money had been opened on his orders.
According to the FIA’s case, it has discovered 28 benami accounts belonging to the Shehbaz family, which it alleges were used to launder Rs. 16.3 billion between 2008 and 2018. It has alleged that the amount was held in “hidden accounts” and was given to the incumbent prime minister in a personal capacity.