Lahore (Web Desk): A special district court in Lahore on Monday acquitted Suleman Shahbaz and other accused in the Rs16 billion money laundering case filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
Suleman appeared before the courtroom alongside his lawyer, Advocate Amjad Parvez.
During the hearing today, Judge Bakht Fakhr Behzad asked who conducted the money laundering inquiry and was informed by the FIA’s lawyer that a joint investigation team (JIT) led by Dr Rizwan had carried it out.
The court then asked whether the FIA had recorded any written statement by any witness during the probe. At this, the FIA’s investigation officer (IO) Ali Mardan remained silent.
Moving on to the next question, the court asked what action was taken against those who kept changing their stance during the investigation. The IO replied that no action was taken.
Expressing his disappointment, the judge inquired whether there was any evidence in the seventh volume of the FIA. What was the evidence based on which the challan was filed, he asked, warning FIA officials of sending them to prison.
On inquiring about former FIA DG Sanaullah Abbasi’s absence from the hearing, the court was informed that the federal agency had written to Abbasi but he did not appear.
Suleman's counsel maintained that the case is baseless and he had spoken against it. The court then asked, under whose pressure the case was filed.
The prosecutor said that there was no direct evidence and Suleman Shehbaz was declared accused in the light of the form used to open the account.
The FIA official was questioned by the court about possessing the authority to investigate the case. He responded by saying that the inquiry was conducted under the money laundering act.
The court asked him whether any institution made any complaints to him regarding remittances.
The prosecutor said the FIA has powers to investigate money laundering.
The former FIA officer said that the agency took action in light of the sugar inquiry commission.
When the court asked about the number of sugar mills involved in the case, the ex-FIA officer said that an inquiry was made against all the sugar mills in Pakistan.
He added that the former federal government had asked for action against the sugar mills of Jahangir Tareen, Khusro family and Sharif family.
The court then asked what action was taken against the Khusro family and Jahangir Tareen. The former FIA officer said he was not the investigator of these cases, so couldn't tell.
Later, the court acquitted all the accused, including Suleman in the money laundering case.
In November 2020, the FIA had booked Shehbaz and his sons Hamza and Suleman under sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 34 and 109 of Prevention of Corruption Act and r/w 3/4 of Anti Money Laundering Act.
Arrest warrants had been issued for Suleman.
However, in its report submitted to the court, the FIA had stated that the warrants could not be executed since Suleman was not present at his address and had gone abroad.
Suleman had been declared a proclaimed offender in the case. Following this, he filed a bail plea on December 23, 2022, and then joined the investigation.
As per the the FIA report, 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”.
In October 2019, the NAB seized Suleman’s shares amounting to Rs2bn in 16 companies along with cash worth Rs4.1 million held in three bank accounts as well as 10 marlas agricultural land and pieces of land spreading over 209 kanals.
The NAB had also alleged that assets worth Rs3.3bn had been identified back then as illegally accumulated by Suleman, Hamza and Shehbaz.
This was after an accountability court in Lahore Suleman a proclaimed offender in October 2019 after a NAB prosecutor said the bureau had issued at least six call-up notices to the suspect, but he did not respond and fled the country to avoid investigation.