After spending more than two years behind bars, senior Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader and National Assembly member Syed Khursheed Shah was granted bail by the Supreme Court on Thursday.
A division bench of the apex court, comprising Justices Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, granted bail after a two-day long hearing. The court said that reasons for granting the bail order would be issued later.
Shah was arrested on August 18, 2019 by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in Islamabad, where he had come to attend a session of the National Assembly. Previously, his bail petition was dismissed twice by justices Shamsuddin Abbasi and Amjad Sahto of the Sindh High Court (SHC).
At the end of hearing in the apex court on Thursday, Justice Bandial noted that reasonable ground for keeping Shah in custody was not available. However, the bench said in its order that his name would be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL), subject to relief granted by the trial court.
Appearing on behalf of Shah, senior counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan argued before the Supreme Court that the entire case against his client was based on exaggerated estimates by NAB without any supporting evidence.
He further said that the SHC judges had proceeded by describing him as the richest man in Sindh, as if that was in itself an offence, without even cursorily examining whether such hyperbolic statements were supported by any concrete facts.
He pointed out that earlier Shah was investigated by NAB from 2001 to 2012 and was exonerated. He added that investigation against him finally closed in 2014.
The present case started against him as an inquiry, Khan said. Shah received a call-up notice. He requested time as he was busy in an important National Assembly session. Reacting to this response NAB arrested him in Islamabad and took him to Sukkur, the lawyer told the court.
According to Makhdoom Ali Khan, it was only after his arrest, NAB started an investigation and three months after his arrest, an investigation report was submitted and a reference was filed against him.
NAB had set up the case against Shah on the ground that the difference between his assets and income exceeded Rs1 billion but there was no evidence to support this allegation. The entire charge was based on exaggerated estimates of his assets and on deliberately suppressing his income, Khan added.
The lawyer said that the poor quality of investigation became evident, when allegations against Shah were examined. For example, Khan said, it was alleged that he and his family members owned 574 acres of land which was purchased in 2005 for Rs175 million.
The land had actually been purchased by him for Rs6 million, the lawyer said. This was supported by the notifications issued by the collector of the area, determining the value of the land, registered sale deeds, statement of the person who brokered the deal and evidence of sale of similar properties in the neighbourhood, Khan added.
All that NAB had in its possession was the statement of the current land revenue officers. Both these officers, when cross-examined, had admitted that they had no documentary facts to support their assessment and that the value was based on their self-assumption.
Khan submitted that the flaw in the investigation was made palpable by the fact that the income of Rs94 million from this land was denied by NAB on the ground that the purchase was illegal. So, on the one hand NAB exaggerated the value of the asset but on the other, it deleted the income from the asset to make out a case that there was a huge gap between his assets and income.
This was not all, Makhdoom Ali Khan told the apex court. NAB then proceeded to add this very amount of Rs94 million as the unexplained income of Shah thereby further exaggerating the value of his assets, he added. He also submitted that all other pieces of land were similarly given an exaggerated value, which flew in the face of documentary evidence.
It was submitted that the income from business, cash in hand and amounts credited to the accounts of Shah were all reflected in his wealth statements and income tax returns. He had never received any notice from the Income tax officers for any misdeclaration of income or misstatement of wealth.
NAB had asked Shah to explain the credit entries in his bank accounts and he had submitted a detailed response, explaining each entry. All these aspects of the case were neglected or overlooked by the high court which accepted the assumptions and exaggerations of NAB as fact and did not engage with or discuss the evidence.
The apex court bench repeatedly asked the NAB counsel to show from the record that these allegations were supported by evidence. It further asked the special prosecutor to select the strongest possible allegation against Shah and point out the evidence in support of this allegation.
The bench asked the investigation officer whether he had examined the tax returns and wealth statements of the accused, all of which were on record. However, the IO replied in the negative. The judges also asked the IO whether the accused was paying all his taxes but did not get a response.
Later, a short order was passed, granting bail to the accused against surety of Rs10 million.
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