The Lahore High Court on Thursday accepted Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif's request for bail in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases.
Shahbaz was taken into custody by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Lahore in connection with the Ashiana Housing case in October 5, 2018.
The former Punjab chief minister had been charged with misuse of authority by unlawfully assuming powers of the board of directors of the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC), and awarding a contract to an ineligible proxy firm that resulted in the failure of the housing scheme. The scam caused a loss to the public exchequer and deprived 61,000 applicants of houses.
It is also alleged that Shahbaz's directive to entrust the project of a housing scheme to the Lahore Development Authority from the PLDC and intervention into affairs of the company was in violation of the Companies Ordinance, Memorandum and Article of Association and Corporate Governance Rules 2013.
NAB had alleged that the former chief minister through his unlawful acts and misuse of authority caused a loss of Rs660 million to the exchequer and the overall project cost Rs3.39 billion.
A two-judge bench headed by Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan was told by NAB that Shahbaz, as chief minister of Punjab, had issued a directive for construction of a drain in Chiniot district primarily for the use of Ramzan Sugar Mills owned by his sons. It said Rs200 million were spent on it from public money.
Justice Shahzad asked whether other works apart from the drain had been undertaken in the district.
Shahbaz's lawyer Amjad Pervez shared details and a feasibility report pertaining to sewage and sanitation works in the area in court. He told the bench that the National Assembly and cabinet had approved the development plan.
"Work on a plan only begins once the NA gives its approval," he replied.
Shahbaz had denied all the charges against him as false and frivolous, and his counsel had sought relief of bail on 30 grounds, including one on medical reasons saying that the petitioner — who is more than 67 years old — has suffered from left-sided sciatica since 1994 due to which he has to exercise regularly and needs physiotherapy.
Under the law, a suspect can seek bail soon after being sent on judicial remand by the trial court. Shahbaz was sent on judicial remand after the accountability court on Dec 6 last year denied the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) request for further physical remand. The bureau had kept Shahbaz in custody for over 80 days since his arrest.
The bench, after accepting Shahbaz's request for bail today, ordered his release.
LHC gives Fawad bail in Ashiana case
The bench also rejected Fawad Hassan Fawad's request for bail in a case pertaining to holding assets beyond his means. However, his request for bail in the Ashiana Housing case was accepted.
NAB yesterday told the LHC that the former principal secretary to the prime minister had owned a plaza in Rawalpindi valued at Rs5 billion and 14 "benami" bank accounts.
The court was told that the historical record of Fawad's alleged ownership of the plaza had been requested. It was also informed that Fawad had drawn a salary despite not being on ex-Pakistan leave.
During this leave, government employees have permission to work abroad, Fawad's lawyer told the court.
Justice Mirza Waqas Rauf asked Fawad's lawyer how long he had been appointed to the chief minister Punjab's office, to which the lawyer replied that he had worked there from April 7, 2012 to 2013.
Advocate Khurram Qureshi had petitioned NAB against Fawad in June 2017, the accountability watchdog's lawyer told the court, after which the chairman NAB had ordered the director general of NAB Rawalpindi to conduct an inquiry into the case.
The lawyer told the court that the Islamabad High Court had given an order for an inquiry into Qureshi's petition, to which Justice Shahzad responded: "If the IHC hadn't passed the order, would NAB not have conducted in inquiry?"
Qureshi said that 10 floors in The Mall Plaza Rawalpindi were under Fawad's name, the NAB lawyer said.
'NAB should look inward'
Commenting on the bail granted by the Lahore High Court to Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry during a media briefing said: "It is a revelation that Shahbaz Sharif has been released. When was he ever imprisoned?"
He said that the system in Pakistan is such that a thief who steals chickens is imprisoned but "if you steal Rs1500bn then your bail is granted within 90 days and you come home".
Of these 90 days, 70 days were spent in the minister's enclave, with a Rangers protocol provided to him throughout, Chaudhry said.
"Shahbaz Sharif's release is in no way evidence of his innocence," he said adding that NAB should "challenge the decision."
He said there was a need for the bureau to look inward and see what problems they are plagued with. "They are getting ahold of such big fish but are unable to take the matter to its logical conclusion.
"Is it their prosecution that is flawed? Or is it their investigation? NAB should put their case before the people and should tell them why they are unable to pursue the matter all the way," said Chaudhry.
He said that the bail sends a negative message to the society once more, that the big [criminals] slip away like fish from the grip of the law.
"We hope that NAB will pursue this and challenge this. Ultimately, the decision lies with the court, of course. The support we can provide will always remain with the NAB process.
"The NAB chairman now needs to examine why the bureau is wrought with so much failure," he concluded.