Split order cast doubt on NAB claims: LHC

Referee bench issues 27-page detailed order on Shehbaz Sharif’s bail plea

Rana Yasif May 08, 2021



A special three-judge referee bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) has noted that a disagreement between the judges of an earlier bench on the question of granting bail to PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif shows that link of the political leader with the alleged offense is doubtful.

“Besides, the difference of opinions between judges on bail matter would clearly show the existence of reasonable grounds to connect the petitioner with the crime as doubtful which would entitle him to the benefit of doubt; a factor essential for the grant of bail,” said a written order issued on Saturday.

The special referee bench – comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, Justice Aalia Neelum and Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi –on April 22 granted post arrest bail to Shehbaz Sharif, who has been accused by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) of money laundering.

The LHC chief justice had constituted the special bench after an earlier LHC bench – comprising Justice Sardar Sarfraz Dogar and Justice Asjad Javed Ghural – wrote divergent orders on Shehbaz’s bail plea.

Giving detailed reasons for granting bail in a 27-page order, the bench said direct remittances were not received in the bank account of the petitioner.

“We are afraid that half-hearted attempt by NAB will not absolve them from their responsibility to prove the case against the petitioner as the presumption of innocence always lies in favour of the accused person and the onus shifts only after initial discharge of burden by the prosecution,” it said.

The bench said the case of the prosecution is that a public officeholder is required to show the highest standard of morality since he plays a role model for the general public and if a corrupt person is given the public seat of responsibility, the public confidence in a democratic system is bound to shatter.

“We fully subscribed to the argument that public office holders must command respect, honour and dignity. In short, he should be 100 % Mr Clean.

“This is of course a hallmark of democracy that whenever any public figure faces any such allegation he is bound to suffer politically which is a defeat of its own kind but here we are conscious of our limitations as we must deal with the cases only in accordance with law and not otherwise.”

The order said the court is also mindful of the fact that it is deciding a bail matter and not the appeal so as to appraise the entire evidence which is yet to be produced.

“The prosecution has yet to establish its case before the trial court on the basis of 110 witnesses. There is a possibility that the petitioner may be convicted and equal is the chance that he may be acquitted. In the event of acquittal the retribution of the time he spent behind the bar will not be possible.”

The bench relied upon the hallmark judgment in Tariq Bashir and 5 others versus The State case. “While placing reliance upon Ghani-ur-Rehman versus NAB and others we have reached to the conclusion that the case of the petitioner for the grant of post arrest bail is made out,” it added.

The bench said in the absence of any property purchased or owned in the personal name of the petitioner and in the absence of direct proof that his family members were his dependents or vice versa and in the absence of direct proof that the money came through FTTs in his account as some crime proceed or money laundering, “we cannot accept the prosecution case as a gospel truth”.

It said according to the NAB investigation report details of the valuable resources to purchase or build up such assets could not be provided by the petitioner despite various notices.

“The allegation is that the petitioner had assets worth 269.301 million in his name but its proof was not enclosed with the reference. No investigation was conducted to dig out the source of income of the petitioner. The other beneficiaries were either Hamza Sharif or Suleman Sharif [Shehbaz’s sons].

“Likewise, in paragraph-4 of this order NAB case was narrated according to which the amount of Rs409 million was given by Nusrat Shahbaz [his wife], to the petitioner to pay the custom duty of vehicle, and another amount of Rs2.45 million was also transferred in his account. However, these assets may have been frozen by NAB, hence should have been secured from their further alienation.”

Interestingly, the order said, NAB has categorically admitted that the petitioner is not alleged to have received any kickbacks or any such ill-gotten money in return to a favour extended to someone to build up the assets in the name of his family.

“These detailed explanations were to be provided by the co-accused persons, ie, the sons, the daughters and the wives of the petitioner but since we are dealing with the case of the petitioner perhaps this does not appear to be his sole responsibility.”

The court said the prosecution – in order to prove their case – has given details of the assets and the inadequate resources disclosed by the petitioner and his family members utilized for the assets.

“Admittedly, neither of these assets were in the name of the petitioner nor the FTTs had come in his personal account,” it added.

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