The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday granted Punjab Assembly Opposition Leader Hamza Shahbaz pre-arrest bail till April 17 and restrained the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from arresting him in cases pertaining to ownership of assets beyond means.
The high court also ordered him to pay surety bonds worth Rs10 million and issued a notice to NAB seeking its reply in the matter.
A NAB team seeking Hamza's arrest was embroiled in a nearly five-hour-long standoff with his private security and supporters at his family's Model Town residence on Saturday. It was the second day in a row that the NAB had approached his residence for his arrest. The stalemate ended once the LHC restrained the bureau from arresting the MPA and granted him protective bail until April 8.
Hamza Shahbaz was represented by Advocate Amjad Pervez before the two-judge bench. A team of the bureau's legal experts were also in the courtroom.
PML-N workers at the Lahore High Court, armed with banners, chanted slogans in Hamza's favour until they were warned by security that they would be expelled from the premises if they did not show respect for the court. They continued a silent show of support for their leader thereafter.
Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan, taking note of the large gathering, remarked: "So many people have been called here today. What is all this?"
Hamza replied that he had not called the PML-N workers.
"What will happen in the future if such sloganeering has already begun?" Justice Mirza Waqas Rauf asked.
The court asked NAB's lawyer which case the bureau wanted to arrest the PML-N leader in, to which he replied that there are a total of three cases against Hamza and they wanted to arrest him in the case pertaining to assets beyond means.
The lawyer added that arrest warrants in the Ramzan Sugar Mills and the Saaf Pani Company cases had not yet been issued.
The PML-N leader's legal counsel Advocate Azam Nazir Tarar told the court that Hamza had been granted bail by the LHC in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, and added that the high court had ordered that a 10-day notice be given prior to his arrest.
According to Tarar, the 10-day time period had been given so that they could secure bail from the appropriate forum.
He said that NAB had raided Hamza's house without a warning, and added that the PML-N leader wanted to secure pre-arrest bail so that he can appear before NAB.
During the proceedings, NAB's lawyer said that the Supreme Court had given a verdict which said the accountability bureau was not required to give a 10-day notice.
He added that illegal transactions had taken place in Hamza's accounts.
"The purpose of the arrest is to ensure that the record does not disappear at the behest of Hamza," he said, adding that the PML-N leader's bail request should be rejected.
Justice Khan said that detailed arguments would be heard later, and added that the high court respected the SC order.
Hamza's legal team, which also includes the LHC Bar Association President Hafeezur Rehman Chaudhry, had filed a civil miscellaneous application in the LHC on Saturday while the NAB team paid a visit to the Shahbaz residence.
The team had argued that Hamza's petition seeking interim pre-arrest bail had already been fixed for hearing before a two-judge bench today. They said the court had, on Nov 20 last year, disposed of Hamza's previous bail petition with direction to NAB to inform him in advance if it found any grounds for his arrest, so that he had sufficient time ─ at least 10 days ─ to approach a court of competent jurisdiction and seek bail.
They had argued that NAB, in violation of the order, was bent on arresting the petitioner without giving him the stipulated 10-day period and that his house had been cordoned off by NAB personnel.
They had asked the chief justice to grant protective bail to Hamza till April 8 to enable him to approach the division bench already seized with the matter.
Chief Justice Khan had 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.
Also on Saturday, an accountability court had dismissed an application of NAB seeking police assistance to enter the house for Hamza's arrest. NAB Special Prosecutor Waris Ali Janjua told the court that the bureau chairman had issued arrest warrants against 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.