LAHORE : An accountability court on Saturday remanded Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif in the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) custody for ten days for interrogation into a housing scam amid angry protest by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers outside the court premises.
In a dramatic turn of events, the NAB on Friday arrested Shehbaz – also the PML-N president and three-time Punjab chief minister – due to his alleged involvement in a multi-billion-rupee housing scam, the Ashiyana-e-Iqbal Housing Project when he was visiting NAB office in connection with another case.
In a detailed statement issued later, the accountability watchdog accused Shehbaz of misusing authority and acting in connivance with Fawad Hassan Fawad and others to illegally cancel contact awarded to a M/s Chaudhry Latif and Sons for infrastructure development of the project.
The sudden arrest had whipped up a storm with the opposition parties terming it political vendetta on part of the newly installed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and an attempt to give the ruling party a walkover in the upcoming by-elections scheduled for Oct 16.
On Saturday when Shehbaz was brought to the accountability court in an armoured vehicle, the security in and around the court was phenomenally tight with around one thousand personnel of police and other law enforcement agencies (LEAs) guarding the court premises. Lahore Police and City Traffic Police had also blocked the roads surrounding the court.
As he reached the court, the PML-N chief was received by a charged crowd of party workers and leaders – including Hamza Shehbaz, Salman Shehbaz, Pervaiz Malik, Marriyum Aurangzeb and Saira Afzal Tarar – chanting slogans against his arrest and demanding his immediate release.
As the armoured vehicle reached the entrance of the court, the workers blocked its way. Few of them also climbed on top of it. There also took place a few incidents of scuffles between the security officials and the PML-N workers. A worker was left injured.
When Shehbaz Sharif was presented before the court, the judge ordered hearing in his chamber as the courtroom was overcrowded with lawyers and media persons. However, later on, the court ordered to clear the courtroom from unauthorised persons and held the hearing there on request of Shehbaz.
Azam Nazir Tarar, Amjad Pervaiz and Fahad Ali Shah appeared before the court as Shehbaz Sharif’s counsels in the case and opposed the NAB application for physical remand, arguing that the accused has been taking part in NAB inquiries and investigations all the time even as Punjab CM.
Speaking on the occasion, Shehbaz said the case was politically motivated. He said he initiated development projects for the progress of the nation and saved money in these projects. He denied corruption of even a penny. “I worked day and night and did not care about my health,” he added.
NAB prosecutor, however, repeated NAB’s allegations and said this was the first remand of the accused which was required for the purposes of interrogation, confrontation and recovery of crime proceeds.
After hearing all the parties, the court reserved its decision briefly. Later, the judge announced the decision, which said this was the first physical remand of the accused and that he has been served with grounds for arrest. .
In white-collar crime involving mega corruption, hidden aspects still have to be unearthed in investigation. Especially the question of misuse of authority at the hands of the accused, the judge said, granting remand of the accused for ten days and ordering his production before the court on Oct 16.
On that day, that is Oct 16, NAB has also summoned former federal minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and former provincial minister Khawaja Salman Rafique in connection with Paragon Housing Society scam.
While presenting his arguments before the accountability court judge Najam-ul-Hassan Bokhary, the prosecutor said the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) upon completion of bidding process and after the due approval of its Board of Directors (BoD), awarded contract for infrastructure development of Ashiyana-e-Iqbal to M/S Chaudhry Latif & Sons on January 14, 2013.
“The PLDC after entering into the contract argument issued mobilization advance of Rs75 million approximately to the said contractor,” the prosecutor said, adding that the contractor also started working on the site and none of the losing bidders filed any complaint before concerned authorities within the stipulated time.
However, on February 25, 2013, Shehbaz Sharif, then Punjab chief minister, ‘illegally and unlawfully’ formed an inquiry committee headed by Tariq Bajwa, the then finance secretary to review the process of tendering. The committee concluded that bidding process was performed according the PPRA rules though there were some procedural irregularities in it, the prosecutor told the court.
He said Shehbaz unlawfully assumed powers of the PLDC’s BoD, misused his authority and acted in connivance with accused Fawad Hassan Fawad, the then secretary (Implementation) to the CM Punjab and illegally and with mala fide intentions forwarded the matter to Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) to kneel down the successful bidder to their whims.
The accused on March 20, 2013 referred the matter to the ACE even without knowledge of the PLDC’s BoD on a false and unlawful complaint. He alleged that NAB investigations had revealed that owner of CONPRO Services (Pvt) Limited, who filed complaint, had bribed Fawad Hassan Fawad in millions of rupees during the same period.
The prosecutor further argued that Shehbaz in a meeting on October 21, 2013, unlawfully directed the PLDC to entrust the project of Ashiyana Ito the Lahore Development Authority (LDA).
“The decision of the accused was illegal and mala fide as per Corporate Governance 2013, Companies Ordinance 1984. The step not only negated the creation of the PLDC, caused loss to state but illegally transferred the project to the LDA headed by his close aide Ahad Khan Cheema.
The prosecutor said under the direction of then CM, the LDA undertook the project under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode to give unlawful benefit to blue-eyed firm namely M/S Bismillah Engineering Company which was a proxy firm of M/S Paragon City (pvt) Limited.