ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has finally challenged a three-year-old judgment of the Lahore High Court (LHC) which quashed an investigation into the Rs1.2 billion Hudabiya Paper Mills scam against members of the Sharif family.
More than 17 years ago, the top graft buster had filed a reference before an accountability court against Nawaz Sharif, his father Mian Muhammad Sharif, brothers Shehbaz Sharif and Abbas Sharif, Abbas’s wife Sabiha, Sharif’s children Maryam and Hussain, and Shahbaz’s son Hamza on allegation that the Sharif family members – who constituted the management of Hudabiya Paper Mills – had accumulated Rs1.24 billion through the mills which was both unexplainable and disproportionate to their known sources of income.
In 2011, the respondents filed a writ petition to have the reference quashed. The LHC unanimously decided to do the same. However, on the matter of reinvestigation, there was a split decision over the competence of NAB to reinitiate proceedings against the petitioners in accordance with the law, and the matter was sent to the chief justice of Pakistan, who in turn referred it to the referee judge for a final verdict.
In 2014, the referee judge had quashed the reference against the Sharifs. At that time, NAB made no effort to challenge the LHC verdict in the Supreme Court.
But now, NAB is claiming that in view of some fresh evidence emerging in the wake of the Panamagate probe by a six-member JIT, it has found reasons to challenge the LHC verdict.
NAB Prosecutor General Waqas Qadeer Dar has filed the petition under Article 185 (3) of the constitution making all Sharif family members respondents.
The appeal says that the Sharif family’s writ petition was not maintainable when an alternate remedy was available, adding that the LHC judgment was not passed in line with the applicable rules.
“The referee judge is not competent to set aside the findings of [the] other judge who ordered reinvestigation. Likewise, investigations are a continuing process in order to reach a just conclusion and an embargo cannot be placed on fresh investigations or further investigation when new material emerges,” says the petition.
It is also submitted that due to the subsequent availability of fresh material produced by the JIT before the SC, NAB cannot be restrained from fulfilling its legal obligation to file an appeal.
“The impugned judgment is void… and illegal [and] as such, no limitation runs against a void order,” says the appeal.
NAB had filed two references in the Hudabiya case. Incumbent Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was nominated as an accused in the initial reference, but NAB excluded his name from the final reference after he recorded a confession statement implicating the Sharifs.
“There was an unexplained investment of Rs642.743m appearing in the books of the mills as share deposit money. This belonged to the directors and beneficial owners of the company, which they had fraudulently amassed under the garb of foreign equity investment,” said the final reference.
It said the company in 1999 settled its loan with London-based Al-Towfeek Company for investment funds by making a payment of $8.7 million and the source of this payment also appeared to be questionable.
It appears from the evidence that in order to launder and conceal their ill-gotten wealth, both Sharif brothers appeared to have fraudulently opened fictitious foreign currency accounts in the names of various individuals with the active connivance of some of their close associates and employees, said the reference.
“The amounts that have been deposited in the said accounts stand unexplained and appear to be beyond the known source of income of the accused individuals,” it added.
NAB’s final reference submitted that fraudulent accounts and deposits were used by the accused as collateral to obtain loans from various financial institutions. Same deposits were released and encashed and the proceeds were used to adjust the financial facilities availed by various companies owned by the accused.
NAB has also submitted documents of another reference regarding the alleged illegal construction of the Sharifs’ Jati Umra estate in Raiwind, wherein the PM and his parents had been nominated as accused.
The reference stated that the Federal Investigation Agency had probed the illegal construction of houses in Raiwind and found that 401 kanals were illegally acquired by the PM and his mother. This land had been used for the construction of palatial mansions and other ancillary buildings.
The total income of the accused persons from 1992 to 2000 was Rs41.190 million, but the total investment made for the construction of the buildings amounted to an estimated Rs247.357million, it added.
The scam came to the limelight last month when the bench – headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa – took up the PTI’s plea seeking the disqualification of Finance Minister Dar on charges of allegedly facilitating the Sharif family in laundering Rs1.2 billion.