A Lahore High Court division bench granted pre-arrest bail till June 17 to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday, a day after a team of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) raided his Model Town residence to arrest him in cases related to money laundering and assets beyond known sources of income.
During the hearing, Sharif's lawyers claimed that even though he was summoned by NAB on June 2, warrants were dated May 28, implying that the watchdog had already decided to arrest him. To this, NAB's counsel responded by saying that warrants were issued when there was enough evidence to make an arrest.
Granting Sharif bail till June 17, the court also asked him to submit a surety bond worth Rs500,000.
Sharif's legal team had filed the pre-arrest bail petition on June 1, a day before he was required to appear before a combined investigation team of the NAB. However, the bail petition could not be fixed for hearing before the bench yesterday.
Also yesterday, for a third time, Shehbaz had refused to appear before NAB, citing health concerns. In a statement submitted to the bureau, he said:
"It has been widely reported in the media that some NAB officials have tested positive for Covid-19.
"Please appreciate [that] I am a cancer survivor and 69 years old. I have been advised limited exposure on account of the peculiar background of low immunity," he said.
He added that he was available to answer any queries by the investigation team via Skype.
After he did not appear for the NAB hearing, a team of officials from the watchdog and police raided the PML-N president's residence in Lahore's Model Town to arrest him but left on learning that he was not present there.
If Sharif had been arrested by the NAB before the LHC hearing on his pre-arrest bail, his petition would have become infructuous.
'NAB takes directions from govt'
Speaking to the media after the hearing, PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that despite accusing Sharif of a host of corruption-related crimes, NAB has yet to prove a single allegation.
"You must have heard a lot about 56 companies, what happened to them? You must have also heard about the Saaf Pani case, what happened to that? What happened to Ashiyana [case]?" he asked.
"The last resort for NAB are accusations of assets beyond means, benami assets and money laundering."
Abbasi proposed NAB to interrogate Sharif in front of the people, saying that "a man who spent his life amongst the public should be interrogated in front of them as well."
"Countries become hollow if institutions resort to dishonesty," Abbasi said. "I ask the NAB chairman, on what grounds did you sign Shehbaz Sharif's arrest orders?"
Party leader Ahsan Iqbal, who was alongside Abbasi, dished heavy criticism at the government, saying that instead of focusing on the locust attack that was ruining crops and distressing farmers, the government was worried about Sharif's arrest. Iqbal claimed that NAB's attempt to arrest Sharif was a "tactic to keep him from attending the upcoming budget session".
Petitions request LHC to allow Sharif to reach court
Earlier on Wednesday, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Vice Chairman Abid Saqi and Lahore High Court Bar Association Secretary Haroon Dogal submitted a petition requesting the Lahore High Court to grant Sharif permission to reach the court.
The petition said police had "set up obstacles" on the way to the court to prevent [Shehbaz from reaching it].
Shehbaz Sharif submitted a petition for pre-arrest bail in the LHC two days ago and reaching the court [for it] is his legal right, the petitioners argued.
A similar petition was also filed by Azam Nazeer Tarar, a member of the PBC.
Police deployment violation of the law: Rana Sanullah
PML-N leaders including Rana Sanaullah, Marriyum Aurangzeb and former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reached the court premises ahead of the hearing. Party spokeswoman Aurangzeb, speaking to reporters outside the LHC, said that an "anti-people and thieving government" had been imposed upon the people.
"The person who shut the country from atop a container has frozen the entire country," she added.
Rana Sanaullah said that Shehbaz was a "patriotic citizen and wants to get bail which is his legal right".
He said the deployment of heavy contingent of police outside the high court premises was a "complete violation of the law".