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LAHORE: Opposition Leader in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shehbaz on Thursday appeared before the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Lahore in connection with its ongoing probe into the multibillion sugar scam in which the Sharif family was accused of committing alleged money laundering of Rs 25 billion through their two sugar mills - Al-Arabia and Ramzan Sugar Mills.

An official source told Business Recorder that a five-member Sugar Investigation Team (SIT), headed by FIA Lahore Director Muhammad Rizwan, grilled Hamza for about 30 minutes. He said the investigators asked nearly 20 questions from the accused that were similar to that of asked from his father Shehbaz Sharif a couple of days ago.

Sharing further details, the source said that the opposition leader denied all the charges leveled against him and the Sharif family members in FIRs registered by the FIA in the sugar scam investigation. "I remained Punjab Assembly (PA) member from 2008-18 and during this period I was also among one of directors/CEOs of Ramzan Sugar Mills," the source quoted Hamza as having said.

He said the PML-N senior leader argued that as an elected PA member, he remained busy in politics and he had no idea who was depositing amounts in his personal bank accounts. He said that Hamza also denied having meetings with contractors, engineers or consultants of public projects.

The source added that the opposition leader further said that though he remained CEO of Ramzan Sugar Mills but he had no idea who allegedly deposited Rs 25 billion in the bank accounts of the mill's clerks and peons as checking their personal accounts was not his responsibility.

"I am not responsible if any portion of ill-gotten money was added to the Rs 25 billion. And the Ramzan Sugar Mills directors (Suleman and Hamza Shehbaz) and my family members have no hidden assets in foreign countries. However, my legal team would answer to the allegations leveled against me and my family members before the concerned court," Hamza further told the FIA.

The source further said that the PML-N president's son expressed his ignorance when he was questioned about punishments recommended in FATF, anti-money laundering and anti-corruption laws. He also said he had no idea why Suleman Shehbaz and some employees of the Ramzan Sugar Mills "fled" abroad.

On Tuesday, PML-N President and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif had appeared before the FIA Lahore in the sugar scam probe. The FIA had quizzed him for about an hour but decided to summon Shehbaz again shortly upon his "unsatisfactory" answers related to the alleged money laundering of Rs 25 billion and other family businesses.

The FIA had booked Shehbaz Sharif and his sons Hamza and Suleman under Sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 34 and 109 (financial fraud, impersonation and forgery) of the PPC and 5(2) and 5(3) (criminal misconduct) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and r/w 3/4 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

The agency claimed that its sugar investigation team in Lahore, while conducting a criminal investigation with respect to Al-Arabia Sugar Mills Ltd/Ramzan Sugar Mills Ltd and the Shehbaz family-owned business entities, discovered over Rs25 billion deposited in 2008-18 in the bank accounts opened/operated in the name of peons and clerks of the sugar mills when Shehbaz Sharif held the office of the Punjab chief minister.

The FIA claimed to have possessed credible evidence of over Rs25bn (including gratifications from sources extraneous to sugar business) in the accounts opened and operated in the name of low-wage employees of the Shehbaz family sugar mills.

The agency alleged that gratifications in cash were received in bulk on Shehbaz Sharif's behalf by Suleman at the former chief minister's residence-cum-camp office in Model Town, Lahore, and transported using his bulletproof Land Cruiser for onward deposits into various accounts by his trusted cash officers. The FIA had asked him to submit a written response to these allegations.

It further said that the money received from the accounts of low-wage employees (of the Sharif group) by Shehbaz Sharif was transferred outside Pakistan via various hundi/hawala networks, ultimately destined for beneficial use of his family members.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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