LHC finds 'lapses' in prosecution case against Sanaullah, says political victimisation 'open secret'
The Lahore High Court (LHC) has found visible "lapses in the prosecution case" filed by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) against PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah, according to the detailed verdict of the case released on Thursday.
The LHC has ruled that the "guilt of the petitioner (Sanaullah) needs further probe and his case calls for further inquiry".
Almost six months after his arrest in July, Sanaullah had been granted bail on Tuesday by the LHC. He was released by jail authorities today after the submission of two surety bonds worth Rs1 million each.
- LHC finds lapses in prosecution case
- No recovery memo prepared on site
- Explanation for not conducting on-site proceedings not plausible
- Sample parcel of only 20 grammes heroin sent to chemical examiner
- Investigating officer made no request for physical remand
- Political victimisation an "open secret" in country
Justice Chaudhry Mushtaq Ahmad, who authored the verdict, wrote:
"Lapses in the prosecution case noted above are visible on surface of record like non-preparation of recovery memos at the place of recovery, non-investigation regarding involvement of petitioner in running a network of smuggling of narcotics and sending only 20 grams of contraband out of the total quantity of 15 kilogrammes heroin allegedly recovered from possession of petitioner do indicate prima facie that guilt of the petitioner needs further probe and his case calls for further inquiry."
Additionally, the judge noted that other co-accused in the case were granted post-arrest bail by the trial court, an order which was not appealed by the prosecution.
In its written order, the LHC also disposed of the ANF's special prosecutor's objections to the maintainability of the petition.
The judge recounted the events of the PML-N Punjab president's arrest based on the contents of the First Information Report (FIR) and other material available on the record.
As per the written order, the 21-member raiding party was constituted after receiving information about the arrival of Sanaullah at Ravi Toll Plaza in Lahore. Sanaullah, along with his gunmen (five in number), were stopped at the toll plaza and all of them were disarmed by the raiding party.
Most strikingly, the LHC in its order said that at the place of recovery, no recovery memo regarding the allegedly recovered narcotics was prepared , rather the accused and the case property was taken to the police station where the necessary documentation was carried out.
"It is mentioned in FIR that gunmen of the petitioner started grappling with members of raiding party in order to rescue the petitioner forcibly but they were overpowered and disarmed," the order stated, adding: "Thereafter a suitcase was found lying in the vehicle and on weighing, it came to 21.5kg but said suitcase along with petitioner and his gunmen, as well as vehicles, was brought at Police Station, Regional Directorate ANF Lahore and proceedings were conducted at said police station including preparation of recovering memos and sealed parcels etc."
Additionally, the order noted that the sample parcel of 20 grams of the 15kg of 'heroin' was prepared for sending to the office of the chemical examiner.
"Explanation furnished regarding non-preparation of documents at the place of recovery was that people passing in their vehicles started gathering at Ravi Toll Plaza, Lahore, due to which accused as well as case property along with vehicles were brought to police station," the order stated, adding that in the presence of the raiding party there was "hardly an occasion" not to conduct proceedings at the place of recovery.
"So [the] explanation furnished for not conducting proceedings at the spot was neither plausible nor convincing ," Justice Ahmad added.
Justice Ahmad said that when the accused were produced before the court the next day, the investigating officer had made no request for physical remand in order to investigate them about the network allegedly operating under the supervision of the present petitioner (Sanaullah).
"[...] Indicates that the investigating agency was not interested in unearthing the activities of the petitioner regarding smuggling of narcotics," the judge stated.
Regarding the claim that the case was registered because the petitioner is a vocal member of an opposition party, the judge said: "Though such argument at bail stage is not attached much weight for the reason that deeper appreciation at the stage of bail is not permissible nor desirable.
"However, in the context of [the] petitioner being a vocal political leader of [an] opposition party, this aspect of the case could not be ignored as political victimisation in our country is an open secret."
The written order stated that the seriousness of an allegation is not grounds for the refusal of bail if "on merits it is found that prosecution's case is doubtful as benefit of doubt always goes to the accused even at bail stage".
"Incarceration of accused before conviction in cases of doubtful nature is never approved by the courts," Justice Ahmed stated.
'Complete lie and a fraud'
Addressing a press conference after his release on bail, Sanaullah questioned why the ANF had been unable to arrest any member of the international drug network that he was alleged to be a part of in the past six months.
"This was a complete lie and a fraud. It was a baseless case," the PML-N leader said, adding that this "drama" had been staged to damage his and his party's reputation. He termed the case against him the "worst political victimisation in this country's history".
"I hold the word of Allah as witness to profess that I have never consumed heroin even once in my life," Sanaullah said. He added that he had never used his influence for any drug peddler to be given any concession in his decades-long political career.
"And if I am telling the truth, then may God's wrath be upon the people who carried out this oppression and concocted this fake case against me."
He said if the intention of those who instituted the case against him was to deter him from supporting his party then "certainly on July 1, I was standing a 100 per cent with my party; today I am standing 1,000pc with my party and leader Mian Nawaz Sharif".
The PML-N leader claimed that the government authorities, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, knew that the case against him was fake but continued to carry out "victimisation" in order to silence the opposition.
He announced that he will demand in the National Assembly and at other forums that a judicial inquiry of his case be conducted.
Awan counters 'lapses'
While talking to media, government's chief spokesperson Firdous Ashiq Awan earlier today sought to counter the various lapses pointed out by the high court in its detailed verdict.
She said the investigating officer of the case had not asked for Sanaullah and the other accused's physical remand because when a suspect is caught "red-handed and recovery is made on the spot", a judicial remand is needed instead of physical remand.
Regarding another objection pointed out by the LHC, she said "minimal" on-site proceedings are usually conducted in case of recoveries and the rest of the proceedings are carried out at the police station.
She also said the sample size sent for testing is always small because the "entire 15-20kg cannot be sent for testing".
Awan urged the media to "not politicise the ANF", saying it is a national institution.
'No govt interference in Sanaullah's case'
Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) and Narcotics Control Shehryar Afridi said that neither he nor Prime Minister Imran Khan had arrested Sanaullah, adding that there had been "no interference" or political victimisation in the PML-N leader's legal proceedings.
Both the state minister and the ANF legal team held separate press conferences yesterday.
While Afridi claimed that he had seen the "footage" before the evidence was provided to the court, the ANF legal team was of the opinion that the video was not a piece of entire evidence, as the case would be decided on the basis of other evidence such as the seizure, chemical examination report, statements of investigating officer and 15 eyewitnesses.
"In drug cases, seizure is important," said Advocate Raja Inam Amin Minhas, leading the ANF team of prosecutors, while addressing a press conference following the presser of the state minister.
Following Sanaullah's arrest in July, addressing a press conference alongside ANF chief Major General Arif Malik, Afridi had said that Sanaullah was arrested after his three-week surveillance and the ANF had complete and sufficient evidence to prove his involvement in the drug business.
The minister said the PML-N leader had been arrested on the basis of a lead from a person who had been arrested at Faisalabad airport.
"All the movements of Rana Sanaullah Sahib and his vehicle were observed and gauged at all levels. Video footage and other things are with us," the minister had said, while refusing to give further details saying they might harm investigation and key witnesses. He had said all the evidence would be presented before courts.
Rana Sanaullah's arrest
The former Punjab law minister was arrested by the ANF Lahore team on July 1 while he was travelling from Faisalabad to Lahore near the Ravi Toll Plaza on motorway.
ANF claimed to have seized 15kg heroin from his vehicle. A special team of the force had also arrested five others, including the driver and security guards of the PML-N leader.
The first information report (FIR) was lodged under Section 9(C) of the Control of Narcotic Substances Act 1997, which carries death penalty or life imprisonment or a jail term that may extend to 14 years, along with a fine up to Rs1 million.