LAHORE   -   Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Saturday told a Special Court in Lahore that he served the Punjab province for twelve-and-a-half years without drawing a single penny from the national kitty.

He made the statement before Special Judge Central Ijaz Hassan Awan, who was hearing a case, filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against him and his son, Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz. The prime minister said besides the salary, no travelling allowance and daily allowance were drawn; that amounted to around 70-80 million rupees. Why would he launder Rs2.5 million, the PM raised a question, adding that he had been accused of laundering Rs2.5 million in the case.

He submitted that during his tenure as the Punjab chief executive, he rejected the summary for sugar export and set an export limit. “My family faced a loss of Rs2 billion due to my decision,” he added. He said that he had decided to impose a duty on ethanol, when his son’s ethanol production plant was being set up.

“My family lost Rs800 million annually and the previous government withdrew that notification, stating that it was injustice to the sugar mills,” he added.

Later, the court allowed Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz to leave, saying the hearing could proceed in their absence. In his arguments, Advocate Amjad Pervaiz, on behalf of the prime minister, submitted that Shehbaz Sharif had no  link with the accounts, mentioned by the FIA in its report. He submitted that it was a politically motivated case.

He said that it was the job of the prosecution to prove Shehbaz Sharif’s connection to the ‘benami’ accounts, but the agency failed to produce any evidence in this regard. He submitted that he did not want to discuss whether the statements of witnesses were correct or not. But, as per statements of the witnesses, these accounts were opened for Suleman Shehbaz, he said, adding that no witness claimed that the accounts were opened for Shehbaz Sharif.

He submitted that Mushtaq Cheeni also opened bank accounts, but no FIR was registered against him, as he never remained a public office holder. He stated that one Muhammad Maqsood had been accused of making a transaction worth Rs3.4 billion, but no money was ever transferred to the accounts of Shehbaz Sharif.

He submitted that as per record, Muhammad Maqsood also used to file his returns. “If he is considered a ‘benamidar’, then it would have to be seen that under which law it is a crime,” the counsel argued.

He submitted that he would recuse himself from the case if its association was established with Shehbaz Sharif. He alleged that the investigation team made the case while “sitting in a room.”

Subsequently, on conclusion of arguments by Amjad Pervaiz, the court adjourned hearing till June 4, and extended the interim bail of Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz.

The court directed Hamza Shehbaz’s counsel to advance arguments on the next date of hearing.

Earlier, at the start of proceedings, a report was filed about the arrest of co-accused - Suleman Shehbaz, Tahir Naqvi, Malik Maqsood and Ghulam Shabbir. The court highlighted contradictory statements made in the report about address and presence of Suleman Shehbaz there.

To which, the FIA prosecutor submitted that the address did exist, but the suspect could not be found at that location. The judge noted that the report also failed to mention other details about Suleman and another suspect Tahir Naqvi.

The FIA prosecutor submitted that the agency would submit a fresh report in the court, after compliance of the warrants. He promised to submit a detailed reply about another suspect, Ghulam Shabbir, after the court noted that he had passed away.

‘With a heavy heart’

Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif also said that the incumbent government had increased the petroleum prices with a heavy heart. The prime minister while talking to reporters after appearing before a Special Court here, said that under a package he announced on Friday night, the government had allocated Rs 28 billion a month to provide relief to the inflation-hit people.

He said under the package, Rs 2,000 each would be disbursed among the 125 million entitled families as subsidy on petrol. He told reporters that inflation had adversely impacted the masses, making the poor people suffer.

The prime minister said that the people even could not afford one-time meal, medical treatment, besides having no businesses or jobs. He said the country was witnessing skyrocketing inflation.

To another question regarding the Yaum-e-Takbeer being observed on the day to commemorate the nuclear tests of May 28, 1998, the prime minister said that the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took a bold stance, refusing to bow before the foreign pressure and rejecting $5 billion offer, for sake of the country’s interests.