The Lahore High Court’s (LHC) division bench ordered the release of Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shehbaz Sharif in a case pertaining to assets beyond means and other money laundering cases on Wednesday.
The bench was headed by Justice Sardar Muhammad Sarfraz Dogar. Hamza had filed post-arrest bail in the LHC. Hamza’s counsels completed their arguments at an earlier hearing whereas NAB pleaded its arguments today.
Hamza’s counsels had argued that the allegations levelled by the anti-graft body had nothing to do with reality adding that the content was concocted.
NAB prosecutor Syed Faisal Raza Bukhari argued that Hamza Shehbaz had been serving as Member of Provincial Assembly in Punjab since 2008 whereas his father Mian Shehbaz Sharif had spent three tenures as Chief Minister Punjab.
He further argued that the assets of the Sharif family were Rs21 million but later these assets reached Rs7billion and Rs320 million in 2018.
In 2003, Hamza Shehbaz Sharif’s assets were Rs18million which later increased over Rs530 million in 2018. Financial Monitoring Unit’s report in 2018 revealed suspicious transactions in Hamza’s accounts. The approval of the inquiry was given on October 23, 2018. Hamza did not respond about the suspicious transactions, the NAB prosecutor pleaded.
NAB proceeded against him under the Money Laundering Act. On April 3, 2019, the arrest warrant of Hamza was issued and on August 20, 2020, the reference was filed against 20 people including Hamza.
The prosecutor further pleased that ten accused were facing trial while six were proclaimed offenders and four were approvers. Nusrat Shehbaz, Rabia Imran, Salman Shehbaz, Ijmran Yousaf were amongst six proclaimed offenders, he added.
NAB prosecutor implored the court that Hamza had not been the ‘benamdar’ but, he had rendered his role as a facilitator in money laundering case also.
Hamza’s counsels argued that NAB claimed Hamza Shehbaz established an offshore company and made the suspicious transaction of Rs1.2billion.
On this, Justice Asjad Javed Ghural asked “why did you people not take up this argument while filing the bail petition in the apex court?”
In NAB’s reference, the NAB associated all Hamza’s assets with his father Shehbaz and further allegations were levelled that Hamza was ‘benamdar’ of his father.
“Why did it take you [NAB] a year to filing this reference,” the bench asked the NAB prosecutor.
At which Prosecutor Bukhari argued the evidence was abroad. “It took time in collecting evidence about suspicious transactions, four offshore companies and other records.”
NAB in its reply had also opposed the bail and requested the LHC for dismissing the post-arrest bail of the accused on the plea that the accused made illegal assets by committing the heinous offence of money laundering.
Hamza Shehbaz Sharif’s bail plea
Hamza had filed a plea for post-arrest bail in LHC contending that in order to muffle the voice of the Opposition as also to deter it from criticizing its performance, the government of the day thought it appropriate to implicate the petitioner and his family in false criminal cases and for this purpose, the process of the respondent NAB was selected.
“This is no more secrete that the use of the respondent NAB as a tool for political engineering has also since been noticed by the superior courts including supreme court of Pakistan,” Hamza further contented.
He submitted that respondent NAB has, inter alia, assumed jurisdiction on the basis of an undated letter (received by the respondent NAB on October 19, 2018) from an undisclosed/unnamed complainant (the “complaint”) and a purported report received from the Financial Monitoring Unit.
Thereafter, with undue haste, a letter on October 23, 2018, was issued by the Director-General NAB to an assistant director purportedly authorizing inquiry against the Petitioner and his family members.
He implored the court that he was arrested in connection with the investigation by the officials of the respondent NAB on June 11, 2019, under alleged offences of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010 (the “AML Act”) and the NAO, 1999.
The above-said reference comprises as many as 58 volumes spreading over thousands of pages whereas 110 prosecution witnesses are cited in the calendar, charge was framed on November 11, 2020.
Complying with the apex court’s order, a report was submitted by NAB wherein as many as 46 accountability references were stated to be pending before the learned trial court and the reference against the petitioner was at serial 44.
On account of the seniority of the reference against the petitioner at number 44 out of a total of 46 references, the SC was pleased to call for a report from the learned trial court as to the expected time of the conclusion of the trial of the instant reference keeping in view the age of seniority vide order on January 8, 2021.
In compliance with the above-said order, learned trial court submitted its report according to which it required at least ten to twelve months’ time for the conclusion of the trial in view of the hefty record comprising of 58 volumes and a long list of 110 prosecution witnesses and a number of accused persons provided all concerned cooperate.
During the course of hearing of the above said Civil Petition for Leave to Appeal (CPLA), it transpired that certain grounds on merits have become available on the basis of material attached with the reference filed after the decision of earlier writ petition seeking bail by this court, moreover, the ground of hardship due to prolonged and continuous incarceration of the petitioner coupled with the report by the trial court qua expected time required for the conclusion of the trial was also not available at the time of the decision of earlier writ petition before this court.
It was in the above context that the above said CPLA was not pressed so as to urge the above-said grounds before this court in the first instance and thus the above said CPLA was decided to vide order on January 22, 2021.
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