KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Tuesday granted bail to former provincial information minister Sharjeel Memon in a corruption reference and also asked the interior ministry to place his name on the Exit Control List.

A two-judge SHC bench headed by Justice Muhammad Karim Khan Agha allowed the post-arrest bail of the former minister against a surety bond of Rs5 million in a reference about alleged corruption in awarding advertisements to electronic media.

The bench allowed the bail application of the former minister of Pakistan Peoples Party, who has been in prison since October 2017, due to delay in conclusion of the trial.

Sharjeel Memon, who is facing trial before an accountability court in Karachi, is set to be released after furnishing the surety since the same bench has also suspended till June 27 his arrest warrant issued by the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau recently in another case of assets beyond his known source of income as well as an order of the trial court for issuing NOC to NAB about the arrest of former minister.

The former information minister moved the SHC again seeking bail as his previous identical plea was dismissed by the high court while the Supreme Court had also turned down his application in September last year seeking bail on medical grounds.

After hearing both sides, the division bench of the SHC allowed the bail application subject to solvent surety of Rs5m and directed the federal interior secretary to immediately place the name of the applicant on the ECL.

The bench in its order observed that apart from being a case of further inquiry, there was a delay in conclusion of the trial, which was unlikely to be completed in the foreseeable future.

Therefore, it added, “Such delay or period spent in custody by the petitioner can be regarded as shocking, unconscionable or insidious. In our view, such delay also tilts the balance in favour of grant of post-arrest bail to the petitioner.”

NAB had filed a reference in 2016 against the former minister, then provincial information secretary Zulfiqar Ali Shallwani, other officials of information department and private persons for allegedly committing corruption from 2013 to 2015 in awarding advertisements of the provincial government’s awareness campaigns to electronic media that caused a loss of around Rs3.27 billion.

The former information minister with 11 others had landed in prison in October 2017 after a division bench of the SHC dismissed their interim pre-arrest bail applications.

The same bench through an interim order also suspended the warrant of arrest issued by the NAB chief on June 13 for Sharjeel Memon in another case regarding assets beyond his known source of income and the June 22 order of the trial court which allowed NAB to arrest the former minister in the second case.

Mr Memon through his lawyer Khalid Javed challenged the issuance of arrest warrant and the trial court’s order for issuing an NOC to NAB and argued that the inquiry was initiated with mala fide intentions since NAB did not want the release of the petitioner and attempted to keep him behind bars.

NAB prosecutor Zahid Baladi contended that there was absolutely no mala fide intention on the part of NAB.

The SHC observed that the inquiry about assets was authorised by NAB in December last year and was converted into investigation in January and warrant was issued on June 13, yet no step was taken to execute the warrant of arrest until the bail application of the petitioner was reserved for order.

The bench in its order said, “We have observed from the impugned order that the learned judge, accountability court-I, Sindh Karachi does not seem to have applied her judicial mind in giving a fully speaking order after examining the grounds of arrest before giving her NOC to the execution of the arrest warrant”.

The court suspended the warrant issued by the chairman of NAB as well as the trial court for issuing an NOC till June 27 and restrained NAB from arresting the petitioner till the final determination of the matter.

Witness cross-examined in case against Sharjeel

An accountability court on Tuesday partly recorded cross-examination of a prosecution witness in a case pertaining to alleged Rs5.76bn corruption against Sharjeel Memon.

Accountability court-I judge Rashida Asad, who is conducting the trial on day-to-day basis, fixed the matter on Wednesday (today) for further cross-examination of information officer Zafar Mallah by the defence counsel for the former minister and others.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2019