HAMZA Shahbaz waves to his supporters as he is arrested on Tuesday.—White Star
HAMZA Shahbaz waves to his supporters as he is arrested on Tuesday.—White Star

LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested on Tuesday the leader of the opposition in the Punjab Assembly, Hamza Shahbaz, after the Lahore High Court dismissed as withdrawn his bail petitions in two inquiries — pertaining to money laundering/assets beyond means and the Ramzan Sugar Mills.

Scores of PML-N-affiliated lawyers and political workers were present inside and outside the courtroom. Hamza is scheduled to be presented before an accountability court on Wednesday (today) for his first physical remand. Under the law, NAB can keep a suspect in physical remand for up to 90 days, with time to time approval by a trial court.

Prior to his arrest, Hamza briefly responded to reporters in the courtroom, saying: “The unholy alliance of NAB and Niazi [Prime Minister Imran Khan] stands exposed today.” He said his lawyers decided to withdraw the bail petitions as they had not been provided with the documents on the basis of which NAB initiated inquiries against him.

Lahore High Court dismisses bail petitions as withdrawn

Party workers chanted slogans and trailed the bureau’s vehicle that carried Hamza; they held a protest at GPO Chowk on the Mall Road too, and temporarily disturbed the flow of traffic on Mall Road, and burnt tyres. However, they dispersed peacefully after an hour or so.

Earlier, a two-judge bench comprising Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Mohammad Waheed Khan resumed the hearing on the bail petitions in a packed courtroom. A legal team comprising Salman Aslam Butt, Azam Nazir Tarar and Amjad Pervez was present to represent Hamza while Jahanzeb Bharwana led the NAB prosecution team.

Mr Bharwana presented a report that claimed that then chief minister Shahbaz Sharif approved the construction of a drain in Chiniot with a cost of Rs360 million only to benefit Ramzan Sugar Mills, owned by his sons Hamza and Salman. It said the public funds had been misused. About charges of money laundering and assets beyond means, the report said Hamza established 12 companies with ‘ill-gotten money and operated fake bank accounts’.

Asked about evidence, the prosecutor said that Hamza had received over Rs2 billion as foreign remittances through suspicious banking transactions. The prosecutor stated that Hamza had declared assets of worth Rs420 million and Rs180m of these were received from abroad. He further expressed apprehensions that Hamza could flee the country, and urged the bench to dismiss the bail pleas with cost as they were not maintainable.

Representing Hamza in the money-laundering case, Advocate Butt argued that the report of the Financial Monitory Unit (FMU) was at the heart of the case but had not been supplied to the petitioner. The FMU is an intelligence service department working within the federal ministry of finance. The counsel said the petitioner had a legitimate right to go through the documents.

Justice Naqvi observed that the relief being sought by the counsel could not be granted momentarily. The bench also dismissed a civil miscellaneous application to this effect. Subsequently, it took a half-hour break, and then resumed the hearing with Advocate Butt saying that the bench had dismissed the application without hearing him and the prosecution on the point of the FMU report.

“Because you are not entitled to this report,” Justice Naqvi told the counsel, and asked him to start arguments on the main case.

The counsel asked the bench to release the dismissal order on the civil miscellaneous application so he could challenge it before the Supreme Court. He added that there was a judgement by the apex court that supported his arguments.

“Are you going to argue on the main case?” the judge asked the counsel once again.

However, Advocate Butt withdrew the petition, expressing the inability to argue in the given situation. Mr Tarar also withdrew other bail petition in the sugar mill case. The bench dismissed the petitions as withdrawn.

A two-judge bench comprising Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Justice Mirza Viqas Rauf had on April 8 granted pre-arrest bail to Hamza in three inquiries: the Punjab Saaf Pani Company, Ramzan Sugar Mills, and money-laundering.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2019