–NA Opp leader was in NAB’s custody for over 80 days in Ashiana Housing and Ramzan Sugar Mills references
–Judge asks NAB why it arrested Shehbaz in Ramzan Sugar Mills case when real beneficiary is his son Hamza Shehbaz
–Shehbaz says truth has prevailed ‘once again’, vows to continue appearing in courts till proven innocent
–Fawad Hassan Fawad secures bail in Ashiana case but LHC turns down plea in illegal assets reference
LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday accepted Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif’s request for bail in the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases.
Shehbaz was taken into custody by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Lahore in connection with the Ashiana Housing case on October 5, 2018, when he appeared before the bureau in the Saaf Pani scam investigation.
His arrest came several months after NAB apprehended two senior bureaucrats, former Lahore Development Authority (LDA) director general Ahad Khan Cheema and former principal secretary to prime minister Fawad Hassan Fawad. Shehbaz was the eighth accused to be arrested in the case.
Within a few days of Cheema’s arrest, the bureau also arrested Bilal Qidwani, Imtiaz Haider, Shahid Shafiq, Sardar Saeed and Arif Butt.
During the investigations, NAB found that Cheema had misused his authority in awarding the contract to Casa Developers, a company that was not eligible for the project according to the Public Private Partnership Act in return for a bribe of 32 kanals of land.
Fawad Hassan Fawad, who served as implementation secretary of the project at the time of its launch, was accused by NAB of issuing orders for awarding the contract to Chaudhry Latif and Sons.
The former Punjab chief minister, meanwhile, has been charged with misuse of authority by unlawfully assuming powers of the board of directors of the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC), and awarding a contract to an ineligible proxy firm. The scam caused a massive loss to the public exchequer and deprived 61,000 applicants of houses.
It is also alleged that Shehbaz’s directive to entrust the project of a housing scheme to LDA from the PLDC and intervention into affairs of the company was in violation of the Companies Ordinance 1984, Memorandum and Articles of Association and Corporate Governance Rules, 2013.
NAB had alleged that the former chief minister through his unlawful acts and misuse of authority caused a loss of Rs660 million to the exchequer and the overall project cost Rs3.39 billion.
A two-judge bench, headed by Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan, after accepting Shehbaz’s request for bail, ordered his immediate release on furnishing bail bonds worth Rs20 million.
Shehbaz had denied all the charges against him as false and frivolous, and his counsel had sought relief of bail on 30 grounds, including one on medical reasons saying that the petitioner — who is more than 67 years old — has suffered from left-sided sciatica since 1994 due to which he has to exercise regularly and needs physiotherapy.
Under the law, a suspect can seek bail soon after being sent on judicial remand by the trial court. Shehbaz was sent on judicial remand after the accountability court on Dec 6 last year denied NAB’s request for further physical remand. The bureau had kept Shehbaz in custody for over 80 days since his arrest.
RAMZAN SUGAR MILLS CASE:
In the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, NAB alleged that Shehbaz, in his capacity as chief minister of Punjab, had issued a directive for construction of a drain in Chiniot district, primarily for the use of Ramzan Sugar Mills owned by his sons. It said Rs200 million were spent on it from public money.
The court questioned the logic of arresting Shehbaz instead of the actual beneficiary and chairman of Ramzan Sugar Mills, his son Hamza Shehbaz. However, the court was told that Hamza was extending full cooperation in the investigation and his arrest was not necessary.
Justice Shahzad asked whether other works apart from the drain had been undertaken in the district. Shehbaz’s lawyer Amjad Pervez shared details and a feasibility report pertaining to sewage and sanitation works in the area in court. He told the bench that the National Assembly (NA) and cabinet had approved the development plan.
“Work on a plan only begins once the National Assembly gives its approval,” he said.
On November 8, 2018, the NAB had said that it has substantial evidence against Shehbaz Sharif, adding that the investigation in the Ashiana Housing Scheme scam and other cases was in “final phase”.
In an interview with Kamran Khan, NAB DG Saleem Shehzad had said, “Shehbaz Sharif lies when he says he has not committed a corruption of even a single penny.”
The NAB official had added that the case against Shehbaz has a lot of substance.
‘TRUTH HAS PREVAILED’:
Commenting on the LHC’s order to release him on bail, Shehbaz Sharif said that truth has prevailed once again.
“We are appearing before courts and will continue to do so,” he vowed, reiterating his promise to leave politics if corruption is proved against him.
Shehbaz added that he had already said the cases are based on lies, and demanded that accountability should be held across-the-board.
He also took to Twitter to thank God, family and the party workers for prayers.
He said: “Allah’s blessings, my mother’s prayers, my brother’s guidance, my family’s love & the strength of the party workers & people of Pakistan along with a clear conscience have given me the courage to stand with conviction and righteousness.”
“I am humbled and honoured for all the prayers and outpouring of love I and my family have and continue to receive. In response I can only say Thank you and ensure that I will commit the rest of my days in your humble service … God bless Pakistan!,” he went on to add.
FAWAD GETS BAIL IN ASHIANA CASE:
The bench also rejected Fawad Hassan Fawad’s request for bail in a case pertaining to holding assets beyond his means. However, his request for bail in the Ashiana Housing case was accepted.
On Wednesday, NAB told the LHC that the former senior bureaucrat owned a plaza in Rawalpindi valued at Rs5 billion and 14 “benami” bank accounts.
The court was told that the historical record of Fawad’s alleged ownership of the plaza had been requested. It was also informed that Fawad had drawn a salary despite not being on ex-Pakistan leave.
During this leave, government employees have permission to work abroad, Fawad’s lawyer told the court.
Justice Mirza Waqas Rauf asked Fawad’s lawyer how long he had been appointed to the chief minister Punjab’s office, to which the lawyer replied that he had worked there from April 7, 2012 to 2013.
Advocate Khurram Qureshi had petitioned NAB against Fawad in June 2017, the accountability watchdog’s lawyer told the court, after which the chairman NAB had ordered the director general of NAB Rawalpindi to conduct an inquiry into the case.
The lawyer told the court that the Islamabad High Court had given an order for an inquiry into Qureshi’s petition, to which Justice Shahzad responded: “If the IHC hadn’t passed the order, would NAB not have conducted in inquiry?”
Qureshi said that 10 floors in The Mall Plaza Rawalpindi were under Fawad’s name, the NAB lawyer said.