LAHORE: An accountability court on Tuesday indicted Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz, opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly, after they pleaded not guilty in the Ramzan Sugar Mills reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Both Shahbaz and Hamza appeared before the trial court, denied all charges levelled by NAB and opted to contest the case.

NAB alleged that Mr Shahbaz, being chief minister of Punjab, had issued a directive for construction of a drain in Chiniot district primarily for exclusive utility of Ramzan Sugar Mills owned by his sons Hamza and Salman. It said Rs200 million was spent from public money on the drain.

Mr Shahbaz said that he had served the province for 10 years with devotion and saved billions of rupees of public funds. He said that the allegation of misappropriating public funds in the construction of the drain was shameful.

The duo charged with construction of a drain in Chiniot for exclusive use of their sugar mill

Judge Syed Najamul Hassan Bokhari told Mr Shahbaz that he would be given ample opportunity to defend his case and the charges against him were yet to be established. The judge explained that the indictment of an accused was a procedural requirement to formally start trial proceedings.

The judge handed over the copies of the charges to Mr Shahbaz and Mr Hamza and directed NAB to present its witnesses on April 23. After the indictment, Mr Shahbaz and his son left the courtroom.

Earlier, the judge expressed dismay over misreporting by a section of media regarding its Saturday’s decision on a NAB application seeking permission to enter the house of Mr Hamza to arrest him. The judge observed that the application was dismissed but the news reports said it was not dismissed.

The Lahore High Court has granted post-arrest bail to Mr Shahbaz in the sugar mills reference with an observation that the drain constructed by the government in Chiniot was for the benefit of the public at large and no evidence had been found on record against the accused to establish allegations of receiving kickbacks or embezzlement of public funds.

Housing scheme reference

The accountability court recorded the statement of a prosecution witness in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme reference against Mr Shahbaz, former director general of the Lahore Development Authority Ahad Cheema, former secretary implementation to the chief minister Fawad Hassan Fawad and others.

The defence counsel conducted cross-examination of the prosecution witness Masood Akhtar and the court adjourned hearing till April 23 when statements of other witnesses would be recorded.

In this case, Mr Shahbaz, Mr Cheema, Mr Fawad and seven other suspects have been indicted by the court while two approvers Israr Saeed and Arif Butt have testified.

The court has declared Kamran Kiyani, brother of former army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, Paragon City director Nadeem Zia and Khalid Hussain absconders for their constant non-appearance.

Remand

Another accountability court granted physical remand of Mohammad Mushtaq, an alleged frontman of Mr Shahbaz’s family, to NAB till April 30.

The anti-graft watchdog alleged that Mr Mushtaq was instrumental in money laundering committed by Mr Shahbaz and his sons.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2019