An accountability court in Lahore on Saturday extended the physical remand of Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif until November 24.
Sharif was produced before court today for a hearing of the Ashiana-i-Iqbal scandal following the expiration of his transit remand. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had requested the court to extend by 15 days the physical remand of the PML-N president, who was arrested on corruption allegations last month.
After listening to the arguments of both parties, the court had reserved its verdict.
NAB prosecutor Waris Ali Janjua said that the anti-corruption body was unable to hold an inquiry due to Sharif's "engagements in the National Assembly and [his] other activities as leader of the opposition". Last month, NAB had secured a transit remand of Sharif, after which he was taken to Islamabad so he could attend parliamentary sessions.
Sharif rejected NAB's claim and countered: "I can say under oath that they have been interrogating me even when my production orders [were issued]."
Amjad Pervaiz, the accused's counsel, objected to NAB's demand for another remand and said that the body's appeal was "not in accordance with the law".
"NAB's latest request is on fake grounds," he said. "This court is not bound to automatically grant a 90-day remand of a suspect."
Pervaiz added that his client had cooperated with NAB's investigation, but the latter had been unable to bring forth any corruption charges against Sharif.
The NAB prosecutor responded that the feasibility report of the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme was prepared by Ahad Cheema, the former director general of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), who is also accused in the case.
"Will you proceed further from the feasibility report?" accountability judge Syed Najmul Hasan asked Janju, possibly referring to the NAB prosecutor's similar argument in the previous hearing.
Sharif's counsel, in response to NAB's argument, said that Sharif had "nothing to do with any report prepared by the LDA or anyone else".
He further said that NAB can interrogate Sharif in the jail, where the opposition leader was being held.
"They can send him a questionnaire in jail," Pervaiz said. "There is no need for a physical remand."
Janjua, during the hearing, informed the court that Sharif was nominated and under arrest in the Ramzan Sugar Mills corruption case as well.
'DG NAB has become a party to the case'
Sharif's counsel also brought up Director General of NAB Lahore Saleem Shahzad's appearances on different news channels and said that the latter had become a "party to the case".
Pervaiz said that Shahzad had issued statements on sub-judice matters on multiple TV channels.
"Haven't you recorded your protest on the highest forum?" the judge asked, referring to a privilege motion that was moved on the matter by the opposition in the National Assembly a day earlier.
"This court is my forum and I will present my point of view here," Pervaiz answered.
Hamza Shahbaz was also present in court for the hearing today.
Contingents of police were posted inside and outside the accountability court before Sharif's arrival.
Several PML-N workers gathered outside the court ahead of Sharif's appearance and tried to enter the building which led to a clash with police, who resorted to baton charge to bring the situation under control.
Allegations against Sharif
According to a NAB notice sent to the former Punjab chief minister on January 16, 2018, Sharif 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 Sharif 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.