LAHORE: Leader of Opposition in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shehbaz on Tuesday filed his second petition before the Lahore High Court for post-arrest bail on the merits in the reference of money laundering and assets beyond means.

The bail has also been sought on an additional ground of hardship and inordinate delay in the trial proceedings as the Supreme Court recently denied the relief to the petitioner with a direction to approach the LHC with fresh grounds for bail.

The petition filed through advocates Azam Nazir Tarar and Amjad Pervaiz states that Hamza was arrested on June 11, 2019, while the reference was filed on Aug 20, 2020, whereas the charges were framed on Nov 11, 2020, after a period of unconscionable delay of 17 months. It says the delay could not be attributed to the petitioner in any manner whatsoever.

It argues that the petitioner is entitled to bail on this ground of delay alone without touching the merits of the case.

The petition contends that a report filed by the NAB before the SC shows the instant reference is at serial No. 44 out of 46 references and a report by the trial court says at least 10 to 12 months time is required for conclusion of the trial.

It further says the investigation is complete, nothing is to be recovered from the petitioner, progress in trial is minimal as out of 110 prosecution witnesses to be produced only five witnesses have been testified so far despite fixation of the case at the shortest possible intervals.

“Under these circumstances, the incarceration of the petitioner for an indefinite period would tantamount to punishment before trial notwithstanding the imperative presumption of innocence as per settled principles of safer administration of criminal justice,” the petition argues.

It pleads that the petitioner has been alleged to be benamidar of his father Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif. However, without prejudice to the said allegation, the petitioner is entitled to bail as the question of benami is to be determined by the trial court in due course and no presumption of truth is attached to the allegation at this stage of the case.

It argues that this is a settled law that the onus of benami is upon the prosecution and the allegation is farce and unsustainable at this tentative stage of the case.

It states that sufficient material is not available on record to make an offence in term of section 9(a)(v) of NAO 1999 as the prosecution has failed to collect evidence as to the requisite constituents of the said offence. It says the entire story of the prosecution proceeds upon the basis of income tax returns and no investigation has been at all conducted into the known sources of income of the petitioner.

It argues that the allegations of money laundering and assets beyond means against the petitioner are false and frivolous as the petitioner has not been given the credit of income on account of number of known sources of income duly declared by him from time to time.

The petition says the petitioner is the leader of the opposition in the provincial assembly and his right to attend the assembly session as legislator and to represent one’s constituency has been recognised as fundamental right and a valid ground for bail by the LHC in a 2003 case of Makhdoom Javed Hashmi.

A division bench comprising Justice Sardar Sarfraz Dogar and Justice Asjad Javed Ghural is set to take up the petition on Wednesday (today).

The petition also points out that three co-suspects have already been allowed post-arrest bail in the same reference. Previously, the LHC had dismissed first petition of Hamza for post-arrest bail on Feb 11, 2020.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2021

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