A special court on Saturday confirmed the bails of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son, Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz, in the Rs16 billion money laundering case and directed them to submit bail bonds of Rs1 million each.
The verdict by the court of Federal Investigation Agency in Lahore is considered a big relief to the Sharifs, who have long been dubbed as the most corrupt family by their main political rival, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan. His party spokesperson Chaudhry Fawad mocked the decision in a satirical tweet: “Thank God! Our courts have never brought disappointment to the people of Pakistan.”
The verdict came mere two days after the sudden death of the main accused – Maqsood ‘Chaprasi’ – in Dubai. Judge Ijaz Hassan Awan announced the verdict reserved earlier after the government prosecutor and defence lawyer concluded their arguments. The FIA’s investigation officer contradicted the previous statement of the prosecutor about the arrest of the accused.
“Neither I and nor the previous IO submitted a fresh report requiring arrest of Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza,” the IO told the court. The FIA presented a report about non-bailable warrants of arrest for three suspects including Suleman Shehbaz, the son of PM Shehbaz, and Malik Maqsood and Tahir Naqvi. In the report, the FIA said that Suleman Shehbaz was not present at the given address and was living abroad, and therefore the warrants could not be executed.
The FIA’s special prosecutor Farooq Bajwa contended that never in the past the accused were granted interim bails after submission of the interim report (challan). “We collected whatever evidence we could,” he said, pointing out that he did not want to make any statement that could cause any damage.
Referring to a court query about the direct evidence in this case, the prosecutor said that there were two cheques of 2013 and 2015 and both were deposited into the account of a man namely Gulzar. He said Gulzar had then deposited Rs20mn in lieu of party funds.
The prosecutor also admitted that two suspects, Masroor Anwar and Usman, could not join the investigation.
When asked about death of Malik Maqsood alias ‘Maqsood Chaprasi’, the prosecutor said they had written to Interpol and would inform the court as soon as they received any response. The judge directed the FIA to submit a verified report and made a newspaper clipping about death of Maqsood part of the case record.
After hearing both sides, judge Awan reserved the verdict and later announced it by confirming bails of Shehbaz Sharif, his son Hamza Shehbaz and other accused.
The court also directed the other accused to deposit surety bonds to the tune of Rs200,000 each.
The PM and his son were already on interim bails for almost a year. They appeared before the court amid strict security arrangements during the hearing. All other litigants were barred from entering the court premises. The traffic remained suspended in the area for hours due to the VIP movement.
Earlier, Shehbaz sought court permission to present some facts about his case, which was allowed. He said that the FIA’s case was similar to the case of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against him and other family members. He stated that the money laundering case was a pack of lies and would be buried.
He told the court that cases regarding Ashiana Housing Scheme and Ramazan Sugar Mills were registered against him.
He said he was accused of misusing his authority in the housing scam and the Lahore High Court (LHC) had given a detailed verdict in his case. The NAB, he said, approached the Supreme Court against his bail and the then chief justice asked it about the evidence of corruption, after which the NAB “ran away”.
The PM also told the court that when he was in the NAB’s custody, he was approached by the FIA twice but he told them he would not say anything without consulting his lawyer.
“I told the FIA [officials] all the facts verbally. My cases were dealt with on merit and I was set free. Honour is the asset of a man,” he said.
He said he had appeared before the court several times and the FIA was snubbed for not presenting challan, but the agency did not submit the case record before it, and instead wanted to take him into custody.