LAHORE : The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday granted bail to Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif who was arrested by the country’s top graft buster in October last year due to his alleged misuse of power as Punjab former chief minister in awarding contract of a housing scheme.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had later filed two references against Shehbaz, also president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), respectively related to the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme and the Ramzan Sugar Mills.
However, the LHC division bench, comprising Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Justice Mirza Viqas Rauf, granted bail to Shehbaz Sharif in both the cases.
The court also granted bail to senior bureaucrat Fawad Hassan Fawad, a co-accused of Shehbaz in Ashiana case, in the housing society case but denied him bail in another NAB reference against his assets beyond means.
Earlier, the bench heard final arguments in the sugar mills reference.
NAB alleged that Shehbaz as Punjab chief minister issued a directive for construction of a drain in district Chiniot primarily for the use of Ramzan Sugar Mills owned by his sons. It said Rs200 million was spent for this purpose from public money.
The defence counsels – Azam Nazir Tarar and Amjad Pervez – in compliance with previous direction, submitted details of the development projects carried out in other districts in addition to Chiniot.
Advocate Pervez told the court that the drain in question was constructed under midterm development framework after approval from the provincial assembly and the cabinet.
The counsel said it was actually the citizens of the Chiniot who benefited more with the construction of the drain as the sugar mills do not function the whole year.
NAB special prosecutor Akram Qureshi argued that details of development projects were not discussed in the assembly sessions as the members debated on budget only.
The bench observed that if this point of view of NAB was accepted then no parliamentarian could ever launch development projects in his/her constituency. Shehbaz Sharif had never been chief executive officer of the Ramzan Sugar Mills, it added.
The prosecutor said Shehbaz’ son Hamza owned the mills. However, the bench noted that NAB in teh bail petition of Hamza, the main beneficiary, had said Hamza’s arrest was not necessary as he had been fully cooperating in the investigation.
Arguing with regard to Ashiana case, Tarar argued that Shahbaz was not the main suspect in the reference. NAB implicated Shehbaz in a supplementary reference at a later stage, he added.
Representing Fawad in the ‘illegal’ assets case, the defence counsel argued that the plaza in Rawalpindi being attributed to his client by the NAB was in fact owned by a company (FYC) of his brothers and other family members.
He pointed out that the plaza was constructed with a bank loan of Rs2 billion and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had its complete record since 1995. When asked, the counsel told the bench that Fawad served at the Punjab Chief Minister House from April 7, 2012 till 2013.
NAB prosecutor argued that the inquiry against Fawad was initiated following an order by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) passed on a complaint filed by a lawyer, Khurram Qureshi, in 2017.
He said the complainant provided NAB with evidence of Fawad’s five illegal properties. He said father of Fawad had retired from army as a non-commissioned officer and had later served in forest department.
Fawad’s father owned only one house measuring five-marla in Rawalpindi, the prosecutor said, adding that there was a visible increase in the assets of the accused after 2014.
He said Fawad violated the rules and worked in Bank Al-Falah and JS Bank during the period of official leave. The suspect maintained seven personal bank accounts, 14 by his family members and a total of 48 ‘benami’ accounts had been traced during the investigation.
Fawad being principal secretary to prime minister and secretary implementation to chief minister misused his authority and committed massive corruption, the prosecutor concluded.
The bench later announced that bail of Shahbaz is allowed in both references. The bench also allowed bail petition of Fawad in the housing scheme reference but rejected his bail in the assets case. The bench granted the bail to both subject to submission of surety bonds of Rs10 million each.
Reacting to the LHC’s order, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the bail granted to the PML-N President Shehbaz would create a wrong impression and the court’s decision ‘should’ be challenged.
“The poor are forced to spend their lives in jail and nobody cares for them but big thieves roam freely in Islamabad through production order,” Chaudhry told reporters. “The bail granted to Shahbaz Sharif will convey a negative message to the society.”
He also called on NAB to see as to why the case of those apprehended could not reach their logical conclusion. The minister said bail given to Shehbaz Sharif did not ‘prove his innocence’.
Responding to the statement, the PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said the unwarranted criticism of NAB by the minister showed the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) desperation.
“This passive aggressive way of insulting NAB in a press conference once again reaffirms how the PTI is constantly trying to bully and influence the accountability watchdog,” she said.
Marriyum said after bragging about 26 cabinet meetings and 440 decisions, the information minister should also have bragged about the disastrous results of those terrible decisions that crushed people with inflation and drowned the country in debt.
“By the grace of God, the truth has prevailed. This vindication is a day of jubilation but also a day of mourning and defeat for those who know nothing but how falsely accuse others,” she added.
This defeat, she said, has dealt a serious blow to the government that has sustained a mental damage. The federal minister information, due to this mental damage, has completely lost his mind while the Punjab information minister has started hallucinating, she added.