Former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif was on Friday arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) at its Lahore office in connection with the Rs14 billion Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case, the bureau said in a statement.
Shahbaz, the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, has been accused of corruption in the Ashiana Housing scheme case. He will be produced before an accountability court for remand tomorrow.
He will be kept in a highly-secured lock-up inside the NAB Lahore office until his appearance in court.
The PML-N president will be presented before Administrative Judge Syed Najmul Hassan amidst tight security. NAB will request the court for a 14-day physical remand of Shahbaz, NAB prosecutor Waris Ali Janjua told DawnNewsTV.
Lawyer Amjad Pervez will represent Shahbaz before the court.
Shahbaz was detained by NAB officials after he appeared before the bureau in the Saaf Pani Company scam case at around 2:55pm. The news of his arrest emerged around 3:35pm after his car was sent away. His private staff who accompanied him as security were also sent away.
A heavy contingent of Rangers has been posted outside NAB Lahore, where supporters of the PML-N had started gathering, DawnNewsTV reported.
Groups of PML-N supporters protested against the arrest at various spots in Lahore in the evening. The arrest comes a little over a week ahead of the by-polls scheduled for October 14.
Meanwhile, PML-N' s members of the National Assembly have submitted a letter to the NA speaker, requestioning a session of the lower house to discuss the opposition leader's arrest. The requisition request is accompanied by the signatures of 90 MNAs.
NAB Lahore intimated the NA speaker regarding Shahbaz's arrest through a letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, saying the bureau had executed the warrant of arrest against the opposition leader.
Allegations against Shahbaz
According to a NAB notice sent to the former Punjab chief minister on January 16, 2018, Shahbaz is accused of ordering the cancellation of award of contract of Ashiana-i-Iqbal to successful bidder Chaudhry Latif and Sons, leading to award of the contract to Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy group of Paragon City Private Limited, which resulted in the loss of approximately Rs193 million.
He is also accused of directing the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) to assign the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), resulting in the award of contract to the Lahore Casa developers, causing the loss of Rs715m and the ultimate failure of the project.
NAB has also accused Shahbaz of directing the PLDC to award the consultancy services of the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to Engineering Consultancy Services Punjab (ECSP) for Rs 192m while the actual cost was supposed to be Rs35m as quoted by Nespak.
PTI govt behind this 'revenge': Nawaz
PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif condemned the arrest of his younger brother, saying it was "not just regrettable, but also ridiculous".
"Everyone knows that the PTI government is behind this worse kind of revenge," he claimed, according to his party.
Nawaz said the PTI government should remain prepared to face the same kind of treatment tomorrow "that they mete out to their opponents today".
"The government shouldn't put the burden of its incompetence on Shahbaz Sharif," the elder Sharif said.
He said as chief minister Punjab, Shahbaz had set a grand example of service and honesty. His services had been acknowledged by the Pakistani people, foreign governments and international institutions, Nawaz claimed.
'Not even a single penny's loss'
PML-N leader and Shahbaz's son, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, lashed out at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government over his father's arrest, claiming that it was part of Imran Khan's effort to save his government after the October 14 by-elections.
Addressing a press conference in Lahore, Hamza accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of colluding with NAB to have opposition leaders arrested so his party could avoid defeat in the by-polls.
"Imran Niazi sahib... we will not let you digest the arrest of the person who served this province day and night," he said, addressing the premier.
He claimed that the national exchequer had not suffered the loss of "even a single penny" in the case in which Shahbaz was arrested today.
He accused the prime minister of going on a witch-hunt against the Sharif family, saying Khan could not hide his "government formed through rigging" behind these arrests.
"Those whose conscience is clear do not fear the bars of a prison," he said.
He claimed that while people are arrested based on the statement of a "person who is in direct NAB custody", others accused of corruption including Babar Awan, Aleem Khan and Zulfi Bukhari are not questioned.
Shahbaz's arrest NAB's doing; govt remained non-partisan: info minister
While commenting on the development, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry maintained that the federal government acted in a non-partisan way and that Shahbaz's arrest was purely the NAB's doing.
"These cases were created in their own government by NAB. In NAB law they first conduct an inquiry, then investigation and then the reference is filed. So now the NAB has converted these cases into investigation as they have seen that there is a lot of potential. Massive corruption worth Rs56 billion has taken place in these cases," Chaudhry told reporters.
"The government is completely non-partisan in this but we want to know that the people who looted the country of Pakistan are being held accountable. Those involved in other big cases should also be arrested.
"And whatever cooperation the NAB needs from the government, whether it is in the form of the FIA or getting people extradited through red warrants or assistance in prosecution, the government is ready to help in every possible manner. But also keep in mind that NAB is a free institution and is not in the government's control. "
Arrest 'against the law': PML-N
Reacting to Shahbaz's arrest, the PML-N claimed that arresting the opposition leader without seeking the permission of the NA speaker was "against the law".
However, NAB sources told DawnNewsTV that the bureau had informed the NA speaker before and after arresting the PML-N president.
A meeting of the PML-N parliamentary party condemned the arrest, saying: "The unfortunate precedent of using NAB against political opponents is being revived again."
According to information provided to Dawn.com by the ex-chief minister's office, the party said Shahbaz had devoted his life for the progress and prosperity of the nation and his arrest before the by-elections "proves how much the government is threatened by the PML-N".
"These tactics are not new for the PML-N," the party said, adding that the practice of making an example out of "public servants" for just being political opponents has brought harm to the country in the past as well.
The PML-N is reviewing the entire situation and will announce the future course of action after consultation between the leaders, the party said.
Shahbaz’s blue-eyed officers, Lahore Development Authority former director general Ahad Cheema and Fawad Hasan Fawad, are already in NAB custody in the Ashiana Housing case.
Fawad Hasan Fawad, former principal secretary to ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in his statement before NAB in August had claimed that he had awarded a contract to a “favourite firm” in the Ashiana Housing project on Shahbaz's behest. A source at the time said that Fawad had also provided “incriminating evidence” against the ex-chief minister in the corruption case, making it difficult for him (Sharif) to defend himself before a combined investigation team of the NAB Lahore.
Shahbaz is also an accused in the Saaf Pani Company scam case. The NAB’s Lahore office had re-summoned him in that case today.
He has previously appeared before NAB on a couple of occasions in both the cases and recorded his statement. He is accused of violating the Punjab Procurement Regularity Authority (PPRA) rules in the award of contracts in the Saaf Pani Company affairs.
In November 2017, NAB had launched a thorough probe into the affairs of the 56 public-sector companies formed by Shahbaz administration in Punjab for their alleged involvement in corruption.
With additional reporting by Mohammad Imran in Islamabad.