The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday granted post-arrest bail to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif in a money laundering reference by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The three-judge bench, headed by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, gave a unanimous verdict. According to the short court order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the PML-N leader was required to furnish two bail bonds worth Rs5 million each.
Shehbaz's counsel Azam Nazeer Tarar said the surety would be submitted tomorrow as the court office hours had ended today. He said Shehbaz would be released from jail tomorrow (Friday).
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz took to Twitter to celebrate the decision and said that Shehbaz had finally been given justice.
"Every time Shehbaz was arrested, his only crime was being loyal to Nawaz Sharif," she said. "If you want to challenge Shehbaz, then do it in [his] service [to the people]." Services rendered to the nation cannot be erased through false cases, she said.
The NAB prosecutor argued that Shehbaz's family members were also nominated in the money laundering reference and that several summonses had been issued to them but they did not join the investigation apart from Hamza Shehbaz.
"When Shehbaz Sharif became a public office holder in 1990, his family's assets were Rs2.1m," said the NAB lawyer, adding that they had swelled and exceeded Rs7.32 billion by 2018.
He said Shehbaz and his family started building properties after 2005 and illegal assets were made in Nishat Lodges in Donga Gali. He proceeded to list down various other properties and assets held by Shehbaz's family members.
"Thirteen industrial units were constructed at a cost of Rs2.7bn," he said, adding that benami companies were also set up with an investment of Rs2bn.
"Is Shehbaz Sharif also among the shareholders of the companies?" questioned Justice Najafi to which he was told that the PML-N president was not but his family members were.
Shehbaz's legal counsel argued that the case before the court was of the bail petition yet NAB was informing the court about the assets of the co-accused in the case.
"People around Shehbaz Sharif used to send money to him [and] that money was the money of TTs (telegraphic transfers)," NAB lawyer Usman G Rashid Cheema said, adding that they had also been used to pay import duties of a car from abroad.
The court was told that the highest number of TTs (155) had been sent to the account of Salman Shehbaz and he did not disclose their source despite repeated notices sent to him. The court questioned what had been his age at the time and was told it was 23.
"Did NAB investigate the TTs which came? Did NAB find out the source of TTs?" the bench questioned. Justice Najafi further asked: "If sacks upon sacks of money were coming into Model Town, then what was their source and where were they coming from?"
"The entire NAB reference does not say where the money came from," said Shehbaz's lawyer.
The court wondered how NAB could say it was a case of assets beyond means when there was no allegation of abuse of power and authority on Shehbaz, and asked NAB how it would prove that Shehbaz's family members were his benamidar.
"The benamidar had no income source and that is why NAB declared them benamidar," the NAB lawyer said. He asked if Shehbaz's lawyer could explain how the house at Model Town was built.
Shehbaz's lawyer responded that the PML-N leader was still living in that house, at which Justice Najafi asked, "Is he not in jail?" — prompting laughter in the courtroom.
Continuing his arguments, the NAB lawyer said Shehbaz was the main accused in the money laundering case and that his assets exceeded his income by Rs260m. "Can his lawyer just tell what business did Shehbaz Sharif do?"
"Shehbaz earned a profit of Rs120m from 2014 to 2018," Cheema said, adding that he still had not explained from which business he earned Rs30m annually.
Faisal Bukhari, another lawyer representing NAB, said that seven months had passed since the start of the money laundering case which he said was "not a long time".
Justice Najafi inquired whether Shehbaz's lawyer had ever requested to adjourn the case in the trial court to which NAB replied: "Many times".
Responding to this, Shehbaz's lawyer said "the body of Shehbaz Sharif's mother was lying at home [and] we still recorded testimony in the case."
Earlier in the hearing, Tarar was accused of contempt of court by the NAB prosecutor and the two got into a verbal exchange before the court restrained the NAB prosecutor from further discussion on the matter.
Split ruling on bail plea
Shehbaz was arrested on September 28, 2020, in the money laundering reference after the LHC refused to further extend his pre-arrest bail. He was first granted interim pre-arrest bail last year on June 3. After his arrest, he remained in the bureau’s custody for 23 days till the trial court sent him on judicial remand on October 20, 2020.
A two-member bench of the LHC on Saturday had issued a split decision on Shehbaz's post-arrest bail petition and sent the matter to the chief justice for the nomination of a referee judge. Justice Sardar Mohammad Sarfraz Dogar, who had headed the bench, allowed the petition, while its other member, Justice Asjad Javed Ghural, had dismissed the same on merits.
LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan had then on Monday constituted a full bench to decide the issue. The new three-judge bench had held its first hearing on the post-arrest bail petition on Wednesday (yesterday).
Previously, Shehbaz was also arrested by NAB on Oct 5, 2018 in Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme and later in Ramzan Sugar Mills case. The LHC had released him on bail in both cases on Feb 17, 2019.