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UK court: Govt, Shehbaz controversy takes new turn

ISLAMABAD: The UK court decision has taken new turn between Shehbaz Sharif and the Pakistan Government and the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar on Tuesday said that a recent order by a court in the United Kingdom did not mention PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, adding that he had not been acquitted of money laundering charges.

A day earlier, according to the Dawn report, it was reported that a UK court had ordered to unfreeze the bank accounts of Shehbaz and his son Suleman after the country’s National Crime Agency (NCA) did not find evidence regarding “suspicious bank transactions” against them.

The PML-N had hailed the decision, calling it an embarrassment for Prime Minister Imran Khan who peddled the corruption and money laundering allegations against the Sharif family.

ISLAMABAD: Adviser to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior
Barrister Mirza Shahzad Akbar

However, in a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar pointed out that there was no asset freezing order (AFO) against Shehbaz in the UK.

He said that the PML-N president was not mentioned in the UK court’s order nor had he been acquitted of any charges. “Shehbaz was not facing money laundering charges in London but despite this, the lifting of an AFO was presented [by the PML-N] as if he was acquitted in a money laundering case.”

Akbar called upon the journalist community to peruse the order and see whether Shehbaz’s name had been mentioned. He also shared the document on Twitter and said: “Cheap tricks won’t work. Shehbaz still need[s] to answer in courts in Pakistan.”

According to the court order, the AFOs were placed by a Westminster court on December 17, 2019, on the bank accounts of Suleman and Zulfiquar Ahmed. It said that the AFOs were set aside after the NCA filed an application.

Akbar also pointed out that it was being portrayed as if the Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) or the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had initiated the investigation in the first place, terming it “incorrect and misreporting”.

Court order (Page-1)

He said that the NCA had contacted the institutions and asked for details of criminal inquiries and convictions against the individuals being investigated.

He said that the ARU had answered the NCA’s queries in a letter and provided various details on pending investigations concerning Shehbaz and his family in 2019. He said the entirety of the letter was not being shared and said that Pakistan was only providing assistance to the investigation in the UK.

Court order (Page-2)

The accountability czar also pointed out that according to information shared with the government, lifting the AFO did not mean that the funds under investigation were legitimate, but merely that the investigation was not being pursued any further.

“What was most surprising […] is that the case is against Suleman and the AFO was issued against him, but the narrative being built since yesterday is that Shehbaz has been vindicated. How has he been vindicated?”

He said that Shehbaz was celebrating the court order about his son as a victory, but had disassociated himself from his family members and their affairs during ongoing inquiries in Pakistan.

He pointed out that the PML-N president and his sons were currently facing money laundering charges in Pakistan and lambasted efforts to create a “false narrative”.

Suleiman Shehbaz Sharif

“There is an effort under way to create a false narrative by twisting facts and this narrative cannot be made,” he said, adding that it was one thing for the PML-N to form its own narrative but it was “saddening” when some individuals colluded and cooperated with them.

He turned his guns to one media house in particular, stating that it “shifted narratives as it pleased” and called it a clear example of fake news.

The accountability czar called on journalists to report the facts as they are instead of distorting them. “No one can stop journalists from their responsibility — not any law or any institution,” he said.

Regarding any possible legal action, he said lawyers would be consulted on the matter. Akbar also called on Shehbaz to approach the courts and submit an application if he considered himself to be acquitted of all charges.

“What is stopping them, this is very simple. It’s been almost two years and if no court has acquitted him, it means that the cases [against him] are strong.”

Govt shared fabricated evidence against Shehbaz

Addressing a press conference a short while later, PML-N leaders lashed out at the ruling PTI government, saying that it had shared “fabricated” evidence against Shehbaz with the NCA and brought shame to Pakistan.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that Akbar, who had given assurances of pursuing the case against the PML-N president in the past, had now dissociated himself from the matter.

Sharing details about the case, Abbasi recalled that in December 2019, the ARU sent a letter to the NCA wherein it was claimed that there was evidence of money laundering against Shehbaz.

Shehbaz Sharif

“The letter was written in the name of a person identified as Barrister Zia Naseem, but no one knows what his position is in this government,” Abbasi said, adding that the UK government would have little idea about how frequently the prime minister and aides lie.

When one government shares details with another, they are considered to be based on facts and truth, he explained. “And so, the NCA filed a petition on the basis of the details provided by the Pakistani government and initiated a probe [against Shehbaz].”

He added that a comprehensive investigation was carried out by the NCA in three countries, namely Pakistan, the UK and United Arab Emirates.

Abbasi further stated that before initiating a probe, the NCA would usually ask for the account holder’s consent to launch an investigation or would seek the court’s permission.

Holding up a document, Abbasi said it was the written copy of the consent given by Shehbaz to the NCA, adding that no obstacles were placed in the course of the investigation by the Sharifs.

The PML-N leader said the NAB and the Federal Investigation Agency had also been corresponding with the NCA regarding the matter, but now the “prime minister is telling us through his advisers that his government has nothing to do with this case.”

Then going back to the NCA’s investigation, Abbasi said the probe continued for 20 months in three countries and yet, no evidence of money laundering or any other crime was found against Shehbaz.

“Today, the prime minister is a cause of shame for our country” as his government shared “fabricated evidence” with the UK agency, said Abbasi, dubbing the move an act of “revenge”. “There is no end to their (the PTI government’s) revenge,” he remarked.

Continuing his tirade against the PTI government, he said it had attacked the Election Commission of Pakistan and the media, and was now was criticising television channels and accusing them of airing fake news.

“They say this when it is them who presented fabricated evidence,” he said. “And they are using the government machinery and every [possible] tactic against the opposition,” he said.