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SHAHBAZ Sharif coming out of the accountability court, which indicted him and several others in the Ashiyana housing case.—Online
SHAHBAZ Sharif coming out of the accountability court, which indicted him and several others in the Ashiyana housing case.—Online

LAHORE: An accountability court on Monday indicted Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif, former secretary implementation to the chief minister Fawad Hassan Fawad, former director general of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) Ahad Cheema, and seven others in the Ashiyana housing scheme scam.

All the suspects pleaded ‘not guilty’ and opted to contest trial, while the court directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to produce its witnesses at the next hearing.

On Monday, Mr Sharif stated that he had appeared before the court despite a severe backache, as obeying the court’s orders was his duty. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president maintained that he faced no allegation of corruption and the allegation against him about the misuse of authority was also baseless, adding that he was willing to say this under oath. Defending the cancellation of the first contract of the housing scheme — awarded to Latif & Sons — he said that the company had deposited a fake bank guarantee.

Judge Syed Najamul Hassan Bokhari asked Mr Sharif to let his counsel prove his innocence.

Nine others meet the same fate, though all plead not guilty

The defence counsel argued that NAB had not included the testimonies of Punjab Land Deve­lopment Company chief engineer Arif Majeed Butt, LDA chief engineer Israr Saeed, and others in its reference. He also complained that NAB had not provided the defence with complete copies of the reference, arguing that charges could not be framed under these circumstances as this would go against the requisites of the fair trial process.

The NAB prosecutor maintained that defence counsel was trying to delay proceedings as all the material available with the investigators had been included in the reference. The defence counsel and the prosecutor also exchanged harsh words. The judge adjourned the hearing until March 4 while summoning prosecution witnesses.

Last week, the Lahore High Court granted bail to Mr Sharif in both the Ashiyana and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Monday also filed a reference against opposition leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz who is the leader of the opposition in the Punjab Assembly on charges of misusing public money for the construction of a drain that primarily benefited their sugar mills in Chiniot.

The summary of the reference submitted in the accountability court stated that both suspects, in collusion, caused the national exchequer a loss to the tune of Rs213 million.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2019