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The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that proceedings against the Sharif family in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference were not undertaken earlier as the Bureau had felt pressured by Nawaz Sharif, who was serving as prime minister at the time the decision to shelve the case was taken.

NAB Deputy Prosecutor Imranul Haq made the statement in response to a question posed a day earlier by a three-judge bench of the apex court ─ headed by Justice Mushir Alam ─ which is hearing the Hudaibiya Papers Mills reference.

Read: What did Ishaq Dar 'confess' to during the Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference in 2000?

In a fresh appeal submitted to the SC today, Haq tried to justify NAB's failure in pursuing the Hudaibiya reference more vigorously after the Bureau was admonished a day earlier for not being prepared.

He requested that the court "scrutinise" the three-year-old "impugned judgement" and allow NAB to reopen the reference.

"Denial to reinvestigate [the case] amounts to the denial of justice itself. Justice was castrated [after the LHC's 2014 decision] and the damage [caused by it] should be undone by this honourable court by condoning the delay in filing of the petition," the appeal read.

Earlier this year, a joint investigation team, formed to probe corruption charges against the Sharif family in the Panama Papers case — that led to Nawaz's disqualification — had recommended that the Hudaibiya reference should be reopened after it found incriminating evidence relating to the case.

While NAB had agreed to reopen corruption references against the Sharif family following the SC verdict, it had not approved filing a reference regarding the Hudaibiya Paper Mills, reasoning that the case has already been decided by the LHC.

However, in September the bureau filed an appeal in the SC, asking the apex court to set aside the LHC's 2014 judgement "in the interest of justice, fair play and equity".

Naming Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, their deceased brother Abbas Sharif and five other family members as respondents, NAB urged the court to declare the LHC judgement void and illegal.

NAB argued in its appeal that the referee judge was not "competent" to set aside the findings of the high court, in which NAB had been allowed to re-initiate investigations against Sharif family members.

Hudaibiya Paper Mills case

The 2000 Hudaibiya Paper Mills money laundering reference was initiated on the basis of an April 25, 2000 confession statement from Ishaq Dar, wherein he admitted to his role in laundering money to the tune of $14.86 million on behalf of the Sharifs through fictitious accounts.

The witness was, however, pardoned by the then NAB chairman.

LHC referee judge Justice Sardar Shamim had quashed the reference on March 11, 2014 on the grounds that if a re-investigation was allowed against the Sharif family, it would provide an opportunity to investigators to pad up lacunas.

The LHC had quashed the case as the PML-N continued to claim that Dar's statement was taken under duress.

Later, NAB had decided not to challenge the high court’s decision.

While Nawaz was not named in the interim reference filed in March 2000, in the final reference against the Hudaibya Paper Mills — approved by then chairman NAB Khalid Maqbool — the bureau had accused Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Abbas Sharif, Hussain Nawaz, Hamza Shahbaz, Shamim Akhtar, Sabiha Abbas and Maryam Nawaz.