LAHORE: A Lahore High Court division bench on Thursday granted post-arrest bail to Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case and adjourned hearing on his petition for bail in a case about illegal assets/money laundering.

Before allowing the bail to Mr Hamza in the sugar mills case, the bench took the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to task for poor investigation in the case. Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi headed the bench that also comprised Justice Chaudhry Abdul Aziz.

Special Prosecutor Faisal Bokhari represented NAB while advocates Azam Nazir Tarar and Amjad Pervez argued on behalf of the petitioner.

NAB alleged that PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, being the chief minister of Punjab, had approved construction of a drain in Chiniot at a cost of Rs360 million just to benefit the Ramzan Sugar Mills, owned by his sons Hamza and Salman.

LHC takes NAB to task for poor investigation

It said public funds were misused for the benefit of a family business of the suspects.

During the course of arguments, Justice Naqvi also rebuked the prosecutor for being ill-prepared to answer the court’s questions.

The judge asked the prosecutor to show where it was written that the drain in question would not be used by other persons or for any purpose other than the sugar mills.

However, the prosecutor said the people getting benefits from the drain were low in number. He further said that public money was used for the construction of the drain.

Justice Naqvi also expressed displeasure when the prosecutor said the officer who investigated the case was on leave to attend a course.

Annoyed over the poor quality of investigations carried out in the case, the judge remarked that NAB officials deserved a “Pride of Performance” award for the quality of their work. He further said “it seemed that NAB had been playing with the entire nation”.

Justice Naqvi observed that NAB could at best formulate a case about misuse of authority. The prosecutor replied in the affirmative and said Mr Sharif was the authority to approve construction of the drain.

However, he had no satisfactory answer when the judge asked him why NAB had withdrawn its petition from the Supreme Court that challenged the bail granted to Mr Sharif by the LHC in the sugar mills case.

“Did NAB withdraw its petition by force or without any reason?” the judge asked the prosecutor. “Do you think the courts are ill-informed?”

Earlier, the petitioner’s counsel argued that it was not the chief minster but the provincial cabinet that had approved the construction of the drain under midterm development framework.

He said people of Chiniot benefited more from the drain than the sugar mills because the latter remained closed for an entire year.

He argued that Mr Sharif had already been granted bail while the documents presented by NAB contained no allegations against Mr Hamza.

After hearing both the sides, the bench allowed the bail petition and adjourned hearing of the petition in the assets case till Feb 11 as the counsel sought time to prepare their arguments.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2020