A special court in Lahore said on Monday that “no evidence of corruption, misuse of authority, and bribery” was so far found against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son, Chief Minister Punjab Hamza Shahbaz, in the Rs16 billion money laundering case.

In a written order for confirming their pre-arrest bail, the higher court said the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) wanted to arrest PM Shehbaz and CM Hamza after they secured bails in the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) cases, showing that the FIA had “mala fide” intentions.

The special court, which was hearing the Rs16 billion money laundering case filed by the FIA against the premier and Hamza, granted the two pre-arrest bail last week.

“…allegation about gratification, corrupt practice, abuse of official authority, kickbacks, and commission requires further probe during the trial as at this stage cogent evidence is not available,” the order read.

The order said that the investigation office (IO), to date, has not mentioned in his diary that the petitioners were required to be in custody for further investigation.

The investigation of the case has been completed and the charge sheet has also been submitted, therefore, the arrests are not required, the special court said, explaining its decision to grant bail to petitioners.

The order mentioned that the statements of the 64 people recorded in the case — who had deposited the amounts — relate to Rs60.7 million and not Rs16 billion — as claimed by the FIA.

It added that in the statements of the 64 depositors, none mentioned the names of the prime minister and the chief minister. “Moreover, said statements do not spell out any bribery, kickbacks, or commission, etc.”

The order said that the FIA started investigating Hamza and PM Shehbaz when they were already in the NAB’s custody. It noted that they were interrogated twice — on December 18, 2022, and January 8, 2021.

Following this, the FIA did not interrogate them for the next five months. Once they were released from NAB’s custody, the court said FIA asked them to appear before it.

“This shows that the prosecution wanted to arrest them again after their release, which shows its mal intent,” the special court’s order said.

The court added that although Hamza Shahbaz was the CEO of the Ramazan Sugar Mills, the prosecution was not able to prove that the accounts — used to launder money — were opened on his orders.

Initially, the FIA claimed that Hamza was involved in corruption worth Rs25 billion, but later, in the charge sheet, it said that he was involved in corruption worth Rs16 billion, the court mentioned.

THE CASE: In December 2021, the FIA had submitted a challan against Shehbaz and Hamza to the special court for their alleged involvement in laundering Rs16 billion in a sugar scam.

According to the FIA report submitted to the court, the investigation team “detected 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3bn was committed from 2008-18. The FIA examined a money trail of 17,000 credit transactions.”

The report added that the amount was kept in “hidden accounts” and “given to Shehbaz in a personal capacity”.

This amount (Rs16 billion) has nothing to do with the sugar business (of Shehbaz’s family), it claimed. The money allegedly received from the accounts of low-wage employees was transferred outside Pakistan via hundi/hawala networks, ultimately destined for the beneficial use of his family members, the FIA had said.

“Eleven low-paid employees of the Sharif group who ‘held and possessed’ the laundered proceeds on behalf of the principal accused, are found guilty of facilitating money laundering. The three other co-accused of the Sharif group also actively facilitated the money laundering,” the agency had said.

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