FIA backtracks on its
‘withdrawal’ of money-
laundering cases against
Shehbaz, Hamza, others

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LAHORE: Controversy over the alleged request of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) with a special court in Lahore for withdrawal of money-laundering cases against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz took a new turn on Thursday as a spokesman of the agency said the case had not been withdrawn.

The controversial request for withdrawal comes after sudden removal of the investigating officer of the case, Dr Mohammad Rizwan, Director FIA who passed away of cardiac arrest on Monday. Soon after his demise, the FIA went ahead with withdrawal request.

According to a Mian Abrar report in Pakistan Today, per the documents available online, the FIA informed a special court in Lahore days before the latter was scheduled to frame charges against the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister that it wanted not to pursue the cases.

According to a written application, dated April 11, 2022, submitted in court, the FIA director general (DG), via the investigating officer, told Special Prosecutor Sikander Zulqarnain Saleem not to appear in court as the “accused in the case are going to be elected the prime minister of Pakistan and chief minister of Punjab”.

“The concerned quarters are not interested to prosecute the accused persons,” it stated, requesting that these instructions be made part of the case record.

However, the judge later rejected the agency’s request and announced his court will indict Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz on May 14.

After the agency submitted its request on Wednesday, the court took the application on record and annexed it with the case.

However, when the FIA’s request went viral on social media, the FIA issued a clarification, claiming the news as ‘fake news’.

Press release

“A fake news is circulating in media regarding withdrawal of the case against political leaders of a party in Lahore. The FIA had registered the case. The case has not been withdrawn. Proceedings are continuing in the court. Next date of hearing is 14-05-2022,” reads the clarification.

The FIA spokesman said that in fact, on 11-04-2022, the prosecutor of the case submitted his opinion based application in the court regarding the change of the prosecutor wherein he was instructed not to appear on behalf of prosecution.

“He mentioned the Investigation Officer, and through him the then DG FIA. He was allegedly asked for not appearing as prosecutor. It was not a withdrawal application anyway,” the clarification said. It added that on 11-04-2022, Mr Sanaullah Abbasi was the DG FIA. At the time of submission of application, new PM had not yet taken oath,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said that Tahir Rai was posted as DG FIA on 22-04-2022.

“This matter pertains to the timing before his arrival in FIA. Change of prosecutor is a routine matter. In the time of previous government too, prosecutor was changed several times in this very case. It is requested that fake news may not be spread in this matter,” concluded the spokesman.

When contacted, Rai Tahir, the FIA DG, said that the press release ‘contains all’. He said no court proceedings had taken place in past two days.

Interestingly, this is not the first controversy since new DG FIA took over the charge. The FIA also filed a plea in the Supreme Court last week, seeking restoration of Section 20 of the infamous PECA law introduced by the outgoing PTI government.

However, soon after the news went viral, the FIA took a U-turn after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered the FIA to immediately withdraw its petition.

Apparently, the prime minister’s directives to the FIA were issued after the government was severely criticised on social media for approaching the top court to restore a clause that made online public defamation a cognisable and a non-bailable offence and also increased the jail term for defaming any person or institution from three years to five years.

Hours after the filing of the petition, the government distanced itself from the FIA’s move. It claimed that the agency had approached the apex court on its own and the premier and other cabinet ministers learned about it later.

As if it was not suffice, the FIA entered into another controversy by booking senior journalist Sami Ibrahim for his ‘anti-state’ statements under the same infamous PECA law which was widely condemned by journalists bodies and human rights organisations.

It merits mention that Premier Shehbaz Sharif and his family are facing charges of money laundering of billions of rupees using accounts operated in the name of their businesses and employees, according to the agency.

The reference mainly accused Sharif of being a beneficiary of assets held in the name of his family members and benamidars, who had no sources to acquire such assets.

It said the family members and benamidars of his family received fake foreign remittances of billions in their personal bank accounts. In addition to these remittances, the bureau said, billions of rupees were laundered by way of foreign pay orders, which were deposited in the personal bank accounts of Hamza and his brother Suleman Shehbaz. The reference further said that the family of Shehbaz failed to justify the sources of funds used for the acquisition of assets.

It said the suspects committed offences of corruption and corrupt practices as envisaged under the provisions of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, and money laundering as delineated in the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010. It asked the trial court to try the suspects and punish them under the law.

Rizwan had not only supervised the crackdown against the sugar cartels responsible for the shortage of the commodity but also carried out investigations against former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) secretary-general Jahangir Khan Tareen and Sharif.

He was replaced with Additional Director Malik Abubakr Khudabakhsh as head of the joint investigation team (JIT) probing the 2020 sugar crisis in April, days after the coalition government assumed power.