LAHORE: Former director general of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) Ahad Khan Cheema was released from jail on Tuesday after a pre-conviction incarceration spanning over three years in three references filed against him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Last week, the Lahore High Court (LHC) had allowed his second petition for post-arrest bail in a reference of illegal assets on the ground of hardships. His first bail petition was dismissed by the court on the merits on April 13, 2020.
Cheema’s was the first high profile arrest in Punjab by NAB before the general election of 2018. A BPS-19 PAS officer, he was the head of the Lahore Development Authority during the last PML-N government.
The bureau had arrested him on Feb 21, 2018 when he appeared before its investigation team in an inquiry into Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme scam. Later, it also initiated inquiries of the LDA-City scam and assets beyond means against him.
Cheema has already been granted bail in reference to Ashiana-i-Iqbal while he stands acquitted in the reference of LDA-City.
Allowing the bail to Cheema in the reference of illegal assets, a two-judge bench noted in its decision that a total of 66 adjournments were made on different grounds up to March 18, 2021, out of which eight adjournments were sought by the defence and 24 by the prosecution. Similarly, on 12 occasions, the case was adjourned on account of lawyers’ strike or bar elections while 16 adjournments were given due to unavailability of the presiding judge of the trial court.
Cheema was also not produced from the jail before the court on six hearings due to circumstances relating to the Covid-19.
The bench referred to a report of the trial court filed before the Supreme Court, which states that so far 40 out of a total 150 prosecution witnesses had been testified. However, NAB filed its supplementary reference in the case on Dec 21, 2020 after 34 months of incarceration of Cheema. After the supplementary reference, 60 more prosecution witnesses were added, taking the total number to 210.
The bench, comprising Justice Sardar Muhammad Sarfraz Dogar and Justice Asjad Javed Ghural, observed that an accused could not be left at the mercy of the prosecution to rot in jail for an indefinite period.
After the process of verifying bail bonds, the trial court issued a robkar (release order) of Cheema on Tuesday. The robkar was submitted to the officials at the Camp Jail and Cheema was released from the Services Hospital where had been admitted a few months back for health reasons.
Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2021