LONDON: The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has obtained production orders from Southwark Crown Court for access to the Barclays bank account of former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif during a high-profile investigation on money laundering, according to new exclusive evidence.
New evidence available with this reporter – not published last month in the full court filing of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court order – shows that the NCA applied to Southwark Crown Court and the court made the production order in under Section 345(1) of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002 on November 3, 2020 for a money laundering investigation into Shehbaz Sharif in relation to his mortgage dealings with PTI UK leader and millionaire donor Aneel Musarrat.
The production order included the warning that failure to comply with this order is a contempt of court, punishable by a fine or two years imprisonment or both. The court authorized NCA investigators to investigate Shehbaz Sharif’s financial conduct dating back 15 years. Southwark Crown Court granted the NCA access for the production of all bank statements, mortgage agreement and financial transaction relating to the purchase of flat 2, 30, Upper Berkley Street for £160,000 and other bank loans by Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif in May 2005 – with the help of PTI UK leader and donor Aneel Musarrat through a loan agreement.
Former Pakistan Accountability Chief Shahzad Akbar had claimed on September 28, 2021 that Geo News had spread fake news and that Shehbaz Sharif’s name was not listed in the assets freezing orders of the Magistrates Court of Pakistan. Westminster and that the investigation therefore did not concern him but since then the British court. Newspapers confirmed that this correspondent’s exclusive news, based on NCA investigative documents, was correct and that the entire money laundering investigation was centered on Shehbaz Sharif and his family.
In October 2021, the Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) made an application to Westminster Magistrates’ Court for access to the whole file on the grounds that it wishes to take legal action against this correspondent for posting fake news. The court held four hearings and then ordered the package released. The NCA gave the court only about 600 pages, while the entire investigation comprises more than 1,200 pages.
The production order allowed the NCA access to “the mortgage/loan acquired by Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif in July 2007 secured against Flat 2, 30 Upper Berkeley Street, London, W1H 5QE and Flat 10 Richbourne Court , 9 Harrowby Street, W1H 5PT; Mortgage/loan application form and associated correspondence with Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and his representatives; KYC or Due Diligence conducted in relation to such loan/mortgage applications; repayment schedule for the mortgage/loan products from the time the product was acquired until final repayment; and the source of funds used for mortgage/loan product repayments (including originating account details) from the time where the product was acquired until final reimbursement.
This correspondent also obtained the 16-page request that the NCA made to Southwark Crown Court for the production orders.
The NCA officer told the court, “I have given the relevant party, Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, notice through his legal representatives of this request in the prescribed form on 10/14/2020” and also “I gave the Respondent Barclays Bank PLC further informal notice of this request on 21/09/2020” and that they “did not wish to oppose this request or make representations “.
The NCA told the court it froze four accounts and that “these accounts are held in the name of, or associated with, Shehbaz Sharif” and his son Suleman Sharif.
The NCA’s request stated: ‘The production order request relates to funds which were subject to a twelve month Account Freezing Order (AFO) granted on 17 December 2019 granted to the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court by District Judge Ikram. These funds, totaling £677,307.14, are held in four bank accounts with HSBC, RBS and Barclays” and “Suleman Sharif is the named account holder with HSBC and Barclays and, together with Shehbaz Sharif, is assessed to control the fund”.
The NCA’s application to the South London court said: ‘I suspect that the remaining balance of the frozen funds is property recoverable or intended by anyone to be used in unlawful conduct. Specifically, it stems from the alleged criminal conduct and money laundering activity of Shehbaz Sharif and Suleman Sharif”.
The NCA request said: “The purpose of this investigation is to determine whether the frozen funds consist, in part or in whole, of salvageable property. This request concerns a specific part of the frozen funds, namely the balance of GBP 315,000 from the proceeds of the sale of flat 2, 30 Upper Berkeley Street, London, W1H 5QE. I believe this material will be of great value to the investigation. Without this, the case team will not be able to determine the true source of the frozen funds. These elements will help the investigation to determine if the funds held are, in whole or in part, salvageable property. If the source of funds is shown to be from criminal behavior in accordance with the point below, this will help the case team calculate what portion of the sale proceeds could be considered salvageable property.
The NCA told the court: ‘This frozen funds investigation relates to a substantial amount of suspected illicit funding and criminal assets in the UK. Criminal finances held in the UK are of a serious nature and pose a real risk of damaging the UK’s reputation and general public confidence in the financial services industry. The respondents have the elements of the course of their business relationship with Shehbaz Sharif. They keep it confidential and have confirmed that they need customer consent or a production order to provide this information. »
When asked by the court to make representations on behalf of Shehbaz Sharif, Suleman Shehbaz Sharif objected to the other documents requested by the NCA.
According to the evidence, he told the court that “while the ANC says Mr. Miah Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif is the affected party but it’s me, Suleman Shehbaz Sharif also an affected party, and I want to make representations against the request for a production order requested by John ….. of the NCA.. Indeed, the funds in my bank accounts are subject to an account freeze order”.
Suleman Shehbaz Sharif told the judge: “I wish to bring to your attention that I and my father Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif have functioned fully with NCA by providing every document requested, providing explanations for every deposit in my bank account, given consent that NCA requested, which is admitted by NCA in the Production Order Application.”
Suleman Shehbaz told the court that the NCA had gone to great lengths “to present a case based on fabricated and politically motivated investigations initiated by Pakistan’s investigative agencies, namely NAB and ARU, by submitting nonsensical documents unique”.
Suleman told the court that he had already provided full evidence to the NCA regarding the purchase of two apartments by Shehbaz Sharif. He said Flat 2, 30 Upper Berkeley Street, London W1H 5QE (the first property) was bought by Shehbaz Sharif in June 2005, while he was in exile (from 2000 to 2007) and sold in October 2018 – some of the proceeds from the sale (£315,000) were sent to his bank account and are now subject to the AFO.
He said the first property was bought for £235,000 with a £160,000 business loan from Barclays Bank and the remaining balance from senior PTI UK executive and friend of Imran Khan, Aneel Musarrat.
“It should be noted that a complete ownership transfer file on the purchase was submitted to the NCA, which contained all documents and money trails of each transaction. A consent order was also given by my father to the NCA for information on how this loan was obtained,” he said.
Suleman told the court: “The current request is just a fishing exercise and clearly an attempt to extend their investigation so that they can find grounds to request an extension when the current AFO expires on December 17, 2020. The NCA had almost a year to investigate and we were fully operational with their investigation. He told the court that the NCA was involved in a fishing expedition which it pleaded “on the basis of fabricated and politically motivated investigations initiated by the Pakistani authorities”.
The NCA investigated Shehbaz Sharif, his son Suleman and Zulfikar Ahmed for two years, then closed the investigation after finding no evidence of criminality, money laundering, fraud or abuse of public office – lending a clean hand to the former chief minister of Punjab.