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Setback for NAB as LHC grants bail to Hamza

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LAHORE: Police scuffle with PML-N workers at Shahbaz Sharif’s residence on Saturday.—Aun Jafri / White Star
LAHORE: Police scuffle with PML-N workers at Shahbaz Sharif’s residence on Saturday.—Aun Jafri / White Star

LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) faced another embarrassing day on Saturday as its second attempt to arrest Opposition Leader in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz remained unsuccessful.

The five-hour siege of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif’s Model Town residence by the Lahore NAB and police ended after the Lahore High Court (LHC) restrained the bureau from arresting Mr Hamza, granting him protective bail till Monday (tomorrow).

On Friday, the bureau had faced strong resistance from the Sharif family’s security men as well as PML-N supporters in its bid to arrest Mr Hamza in a case of money laundering and owning assets beyond means.

“The NAB team members asked the security guards to tell Hamza to surrender himself otherwise they will force their way into the house and arrest him,” a PML-N leader told Dawn on Saturday.

The family spokesperson, Attaullah Tarar, told the raiding team on Saturday Mr Hamza would not surrender because the LHC on Nov 20, 2018 had ruled on his application that NAB must inform him 10 days in advance if it intended to arrest him.

Upon this, the NAB team, led by Deputy Director Chaudhry Asghar, announced they would not return without Mr Hamza.

Talking to journalists, Mr Asghar advised Mr Hamza not to resist his arrest saying it would make him a big leader. “Hamza should not be afraid of going to jail. Rather a politician’s stature grows by going to jail,” the NAB team leader said.

Bureau team, police unable to lay hands on PML-N leader despite five-hour siege of his house; NAB official says a politician’s stature grows by going to jail

The Punjab chief minister’s spokesman, Shahbaz Gill, also commented, expressing frustration as to why the NAB team was waiting outside Mr Shahbaz’s residence. “DD NAB Ch Asghar continuously sitting in his vehicle. Even talking to media from inside his vehicle,” Mr Gill tweeted.

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb responded to Mr Gill’s tweet, questioning whether he was ordering the NAB official or acting as a spokesman for the bureau. “The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government-NAB alliance to fix the opposition leaders has been exposed beyond any doubt,” she said, adding: “This is state terrorism against the PML-N at the behest of Prime Minister Imran Khan.”

A good number of PML-N workers, including MPAs, gathered outside the Model Town residence and tried to cross the barricades police had placed to stop them. Police baton-charged the workers that caused minor injuries to some of them. However, no arrest was made.

Despite the NAB team failing to convince Mr Hamza through his party men to surrender for about five hours, it did not get the green light from the bureau chief to enter the house with the help of police and arrest the opposition leader.

Police had even brought ladders to scale the walls of the house and blocked all roads leading to the house to stop more PML-N workers from gathering there.

While the NAB team remained indecisive about its action against Mr Hamza, his lawyers filed a petition in the LHC against the bureau for not following the Nov 20 court verdict. The court admitted the plea and restrained the NAB from arresting Mr Hamza till April 8.

After the NAB team left, Mr Hamza stepped out of his house and thanked the party workers. Addressing them, he said: “Today it was the victory of law. We are law-abiding citizens. I have appeared before NAB whenever it summoned me. I want to tell Imran Niazi that I am not afraid of him, but only of Allah.”

Mr Hamza alleged that he was “detained” in his house “like a terrorist” as the NAB officials violated the sanctity of a household. “I want to tell Mr Niazi not to threaten us with imprisonment as we have faced accountability during the rule of retired Gen Musharraf. No corruption has been proved against Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif.”

NAB restrained from arresting Hamza

LHC Chief Justice Sardar Muhammad Shamim Khan passed a restraining order to NAB against Mr Hamza’s arrest, taking up in his chamber a civil miscellaneous application filed by his legal team comprising Lahore High Court Bar Association president Hafeezur Rehman Chaudhry, Amjad Pervez and Chaudhry Imtiaz Elahi.

The team argued that a petition of Mr Hamza for an interim pre-arrest bail had already been fixed for hearing before a two-judge bench for April 8. They said the court had on Nov 20, 2018 disposed of a previous bail petition of the opposition leader with a directive to NAB to communicate to him if it found any ground for his arrest so that he had sufficient time -- of at least 10 days — for approaching the court of competent jurisdiction.

They argued that in violation of the order, NAB was bent on arresting the petitioner without giving him the 10-day period and his house had been cordoned off by the bureau’s officials. They asked the chief justice to grant protective bail to Mr Hamza till April 8 to enable him to approach the division bench already seized with the matter.

While granting him bail till April 8, Chief Justice Khan made it clear that the bail granting order would cease to have any effect after Monday and this would not prejudice the case of any party.

Earlier in the day, an accountability court had dismissed an application of NAB seeking police assistance to enter the house of Hamza Shahbaz for his arrest. NAB Special Prosecutor Waris Ali Janjua told the court that the bureau chairman had issued arrest warrants against Mr Hamza and a team raided his house for his arrest, but he took refuge and confined himself inside. He said that political workers gathered around the residence creating hindrance and a law and order situation.

Judge Syed Najamul Hassan Bokhari observed that the procedure for arresting a suspect was detailed in Chapter-V of the Code of Criminal Procedure which was applicable to all proceedings under the National Accountability Ordinance 1999.

“In view of the matter, no specific direction is required to be issued to execute the duly issued warrant of arrest, if same is not suspended by the competent authority. Petition without force stands dismissed,” the judge wrote in his order.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2019