LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Thursday granted bail to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif in two references — Ashiyana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills — filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against him.

A division bench comprising Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Justice Mirza Viqas Rauf also granted bail to Fawad Hassan Fawad, former implementation secretary to the chief minister, in the housing scheme scam, but denied him bail in another NAB reference relating to assets beyond means.

NAB had arrested Shahbaz Sharif on Oct 5 last year in the Ashiyana housing scheme scam when he appeared before the bureau in connection with investigation into the Punjab Saaf Pani corruption case.

Accepts bail plea of Fawad Hassan Fawad in one reference, but rejects in another case

An accountability court had on Dec 6 last year sent the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president on judicial remand, rejecting NAB’s request for extension in his physical remand which he underwent for 62 days.

During his physical and judicial remand, the opposition leader kept attending sessions of the National Assembly following the issuance of his production orders by the speaker. Later he became chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and remained busy in Islamabad for chairing meetings of the committee.

Arguments by the prosecution and defence were almost complete in the Ashiyana housing reference and the LHC bench on Thursday heard final arguments in the sugar mills reference against Mr Shahbaz and in the assets-beyond-means reference against Mr Fawad.

NAB alleged that Mr Shahbaz being 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 was spent for this purpose from the public money.

In compliance with a previous directive, defence counsel Azam Nazir Tarar and Amjad Pervez submitted to the court details of development projects carried out in other districts, in addition to Chiniot.

Advocate Pervez said the drain in question was constructed under a mid-term development framework after approval from the provincial assembly and cabinet. He contended that the people of Chiniot were benefited more with the construction of the drain as the sugar mills did not function the whole year.

NAB special prosecutor Akram Qureshi argued that details of the development projects were not discussed in the assembly sessions as the members debated only on their budget.

The LHC bench observed that if this point of view of the anti-graft watchdog was accepted, no parliamentarian would ever launch development projects in his/her constituency. When the court pointed out that Mr Shahbaz had never been chief executive officer of Ramzan Sugar Mills, the prosecutor said his son Hamza owned this mill.

The court noted that NAB in the bail petition of Hamza Shahbaz, the main beneficiary, had taken a plea that his arrest was not necessary as he had been fully cooperating in the investigation.

Justice Khan observed that the court would see the parameters of the bureau’s investigations because reasons behind the selective arrests did not seem logical.

Advocate Tarar argued that Shahbaz Sharif was not a main suspect in the Ashiyana housing reference, adding that NAB had implicated the PML-N president in a supplementary reference at a later stage.

Representing Mr Fawad in the ‘illegal’ assets case, the counsel argued that a plaza in Rawalpindi being attributed to his client by NAB was in fact owned by a company (FYC) of his brothers and other family members. He pointed out that the plaza was constructed with a bank loan of Rs2 billion and the Federal Board of Revenue had its complete record since 1995. When asked, the counsel told the bench that Mr Fawad had served at the chief minister house from April 7, 2012 to 2013.

The NAB prosecutor argued that the inquiry against Mr Fawad had been initiated following an order of the Islamabad High Court issued on a complaint filed by a lawyer, Khurram Qureshi, in 2017. He said the complainant had provided the bureau evidence of five illegal properties owned by Mr Fawad.

He said the father of Mr Fawad had retired from the army as a non-commissioned officer and later served in the forest department. Mr Fawad’s father had owned only one five-marla house in Rawalpindi, the prosecutor said, adding that there was a visible increase in the assets of the accused after 2014.

The court observed that the defence had admitted the fact that the suspect’s wife was a shareholder in the FYC.

The value of the shares was Rs350m, the prosecutor said, adding that the suspect also purchased a company previously owned by Jahangir Siddiqui, former ambassador to the United States. He said Mr Fawad had violated rules as he worked in Bank Alfalah and JS Bank during the period of official leave. The suspect maintained seven personal bank accounts, 14 by his family members and a total of 48 “benami” accounts had been traced during the investigation, said the prosecutor.

“Fawad being principal secretary to prime minister and secretary implementation to chief minister misused his authority and committed massive corruption,” the prosecutor concluded.

The court reserved the verdict and reassembled after a while only to announce that bail of Shahbaz Sharif had been allowed in both references — Ashiyana housing and Ramzan Sugar Mills. The bench also allowed bail petition of Mr Fawad in the housing scheme reference, but rejected in the assets-beyond-means case.

The court granted the bail to both subject to surety bonds of Rs10 million each.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2019

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