An accountability court in Lahore on Saturday granted 10-day physical remand of PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the Ashiana Housing Scheme case.
Shahbaz — who was taken into custody by the NAB a day earlier — was produced before the accountability court while the watchdog sought his custody.
The hearing today was originally scheduled to take place inside the judge's chamber, but was later moved to an open court following PML-N lawyers' protest.
"I did not do anything illegal," Shahbaz was quoted as saying during the hearing. "[I] have always worked for the prosperity of this country.
"We recovered millions from those who looted [the country] and deposited [the recoveries] in the national treasury," he added.
Shahbaz is accused of ordering the cancellation of a contract given to successful bidder Chaudhry Latif and Sons for the Ashiana Housing Scheme, and engineering the subsequent award of the contract to Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy group of Paragon City Private Limited, resulting in a loss of Rs193 million to the exchequer.
In court today, Shahbaz's counsel Amjad Pervez seemed to justify the former Punjab CM's cancellation of the said contract.
"Chaudhry Latif is an absconder in an anti-corruption case," Pervez said. "In one case, Chaudhry Latif's company is blacklisted."
Following the hearing, Shahbaz was sent back to the NAB office — where he had spent the previous night — in an armoured vehicle amid tight security.
Later on, in his full order, Judge Syed Najamul Hasan Bokhary stated that Shahbaz's counsel had opposed the NAB's application for their client's physical remand citing his cooperation with the investigation and the fact that "the scam is based on documentary evidence".
"This is the first physical remand of the accused and he has been served with grounds of arrest," the court observed in the order. "Being white collar crime of mega corruption, the hidden aspects still have to be unearthed by joining the accused in the investigation ... so the application is allowed."
The court approved a remand of 10 days, and ordered that Shahbaz be produced before the court again on October 16.
Earlier, Sharif arrived at the court in an armoured vehicle, under heavy security, according to DawnNewsTV. The squad that escorted Shahbaz to the accountability court also included a fire engine, a rescue van and scores of security officers, DawnNewsTV reported.
Contingents of police, which were posted inside and outside the accountability court, refused to let PML-N leaders and workers inside the building. Only the PML-N president's son, Hamza Shahbaz, and party leaders Malik Ahmed Ehsan and Malik Ahmed Khan, were allowed inside the courtroom.
Party spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb and Pervez Malik protested with other PML-N workers gathered outside the court building as early as 7am.
On Shahbaz's arrival, the emotionally charged workers mounted the armoured vehicle, chanting slogans in Shahbaz's favour. They had to be forced off by the police.
PML-N cries foul, terms Shahbaz's arrest as "revenge"
Talking to the media outside the accountability court building earlier, Aurangzeb had accused the government of "using" NAB "to take political revenge".
"They [government] had thought that PML-N would break. They thought that the brothers [Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif] will be separated," she said. "They thought, and they tried, that a forward block be formed in the party."
Yesterday, former premier Nawaz had termed Shahbaz's arrest as "not just regrettable, but also ridiculous" and accused the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government of being responsible for "this worse kind of revenge".
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, and engineering the 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 Lahore Casa Developers, causing a 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.
On Dawn’s query seeking details about the grounds of his arrest, NAB spokesperson Nawazish Ali Asim had said: “Grounds of arrest will be presented before the accountability court on Saturday.”