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LAHORE: An accountability court on Wednesday granted 10-day physical remand of former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother former Punjab health minister Khawaja Salman Rafique to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the Paragon City Housing Society scam.

Extraordinary security measures were made by police as all roads around the judicial complex were cordoned off and closed before the appearance of the Khawaja brothers in the court.

Hundreds of PML-N workers gathered outside the complex but were not allowed to further proceed. Holding posters of the Khawaja brothers, they kept chanting slogans in favour of the PML-N and against the government.

Shahbaz Sharif’s transit remand extended till completion of NA session

On his way to the courtroom, Saad Rafique responded to the charged slogans of his party workers.

The hearing resumed in a crowded courtroom with the arguments of NAB special prosecutor Waris Ali Janjua who submitted an application seeking physical remand of both brothers for 15 days.

The prosecutor contended that Khawaja Saad Rafique through his “benamidar” wife Ghazala Saad and in connivance with his brother Salman Rafique and with abetment of Qaiser Amin Butt and Nadeem Zia established a housing project in the name of Air Avenue. He said the project was later converted into a new housing project namely Paragon City Pvt Ltd. He said the record showed that Paragon City was an illegal society and not approved by the Lahore Development Authority.

Mr Janjua said the suspects along with other accomplices cheated the public and obtained illegal financial benefits from the funds of the illegal society. He claimed that the former railways minister had been and was continuously receiving monitory benefits from the project as he obtained 40 kanals of land in his own name and in the name of his brother. He said Saad Rafique received Rs100 million approximately from Executive Builders (proxy setup of Paragon City) in bank accounts of M/s Saadain Associates and M/s KSR Associates.

He pointed out that at least 90 individuals, who were not given plots in Paragon City despite payments, had filed complaints with NAB.

To a court’s query, the prosecutor admitted that the Khawaja brothers had appeared before the investigation teams whenever they were summoned.

Judge Syed Najamul Hassan Bokhari expressed displeasure over non-submission by the prosecutor of a handwritten statement of a co-suspect, Shahid Butt. The judge observed that the printed statement appeared to have been written by NAB itself.

The prosecutor pleaded that physical custody of the accused persons was imperative for the purposes of interrogation, confrontation with record and recovery of ill-gotten money.

Advocate Amjad Pervez, the defence counsel, told the court that the Khawaja brothers appeared before NAB on each and every summons and responded in writing to all the questionnaires they received from the investigators. He said his clients had disclosed their complete assets in the tax documents. He pointed out that Paragon City was established 15 years ago and NAB failed to furnish a single document to prove ownership of the Khawaja brothers. He said all the land being attributed to the former ministers was a declared asset.

The defence counsel argued that Qaiser Amin Butt had on his very first appearance before the court agreed to address grievances of all the affected persons. As to why NAB kept Butt in physical remand and got his statement recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code when the dispute was going to be settled amicably, said the counsel, questioning the bureau’s ‘mala fide’. He said NAB got recorded two statements of Butt as its chairman did not like the first one. He said there was no need to grant physical remand.

However, the judge granted 10-day remand of the Khawaja brothers to NAB with a directive to produce them again on Dec 22.

Meanwhile, the judge expressed dismay when Saad Rafique complained about the treatment meted out to him in NAB custody. Mr Rafique said the washroom of his lock-up had no door latch. He also complained that there was a camera installed in the lock-up. However, he said camera had been removed from the washroom.

The judge ordered NAB to provide all basic facilities to the suspects in its custody. Even a convict could not be deprived of basic needs, the judge said and warned NAB against subjecting the suspects to inhuman treatment.

Transit remand

Meanwhile, the accountability court extended transit remand of Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif till completion of the assembly sessions. The court extended the transit remand on an application of the Kot Lakhpat jail superintendent. Mr Sharif is already in Islamabad to attend the NA session.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2018