LAHORE: A full bench of the Lahore High Court on Thursday granted post-arrest bail to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif in a money laundering reference. He is likely to be released from jail on Friday (today).

Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, who headed the bench, announced a short order in the open court with Justice Aalia Neelum and Justice Syed Shahbaz Ali Rizvi sitting beside him.

“For the reasons to be recorded later and with consensus, we admit the petitioner to post-arrest bail subject to his furnishing bail bonds in the sum of Rs5 million with two sureties each in the like amount to the satisfaction of the learned trial court,” read the short order signed by all the three judges.

At the outset of the hearing, NAB special prosecutor Syed Faisal Raza Bokhari referred to a statement of Advocate Azam Nazir Tarar, the counsel for Shehbaz Sharif, about a split decision previously issued by a division bench in the bail petition of the opposition leader.

PML-N president likely to be released from jail today

Mr Tarar had stated the other day that it was unfortunate that a division bench initially allowed the bail petition and later issued a split decision. The counsel said he never witnessed change in an announced decision in his 27 years of law practice.

The NAB prosecutor said the counsel’s statement amounted to contempt of court and he should take his words back.

However, Mr Tarar said he stuck to his stance and wondered whether the prosecutor wanted the bench to initiate contempt proceedings against him.

Mr Bokhari insisted he could establish that the statement fell within the definition of contempt.

The bench, however, asked the prosecutor to start his arguments in the petition.

Mr Bokhari argued that Shehbaz Sharif, the petitioner, had accumulated massive assets in the names of his family members as benamidars. He said two proxy companies established by the petitioner’s sons Hamza and Salman alone received an unexplained foreign investment of Rs2 billion.

When asked if Mr Sharif was also a shareholder in the companies, the prosecutor told the bench that only family members of the petitioner were shareholders.

Advocate Tarar raised an objection and said the bench was hearing bail petition of Shehbaz Sharif, but the prosecutor was discussing assets of other suspects in the reference.

Continuing his arguments, the prosecutor said the family members of the petitioner were also nominated suspects in the money laundering reference. He pointed out that some of the members of the petitioner’s family had been declared absconders by a trial court.

He said Salman, the petitioner’s son, had received 155 telegraph transfers (TTs) in his accounts when his age was 23 years. He said the assets of the petitioner had also massively swelled from 1990 to 2018. He said the family of the petitioner had established properties in 2005 when it started receiving huge foreign ‘investment’ through TTs.

Justice Najafi asked the prosecutor if the National Accountability Bureau investigated the source of the TTs.

Advocate Tarar pointed out that NAB had failed to say anything in its reference about the source of the money received from outside the country.

The judge observed: “How can NAB declare assets of Shehbaz Sharif illegal if there is no allegation of misuse of authority against him.”

The prosecutor argued that the family members of the petitioner were his benamidars.

“How could you prove that members of Shehbaz Sharif’s family are his banamidars?” the judge posed another question to the prosecutor.

Mr Bokhari said the assets of Shehbaz Sharif were beyond known sources of his income. He also challenged an argument of the petitioner’s counsel about unconscionable delay in the trial proceedings, saying it had been only seven months since the formal start of the trial.

In reply to a bench’s query about the adjournments sought in the trial, Advocate Tarar said the defence sought adjournments only on the death of Mr Sharif’s mother.

After hearing the arguments from both sides, the bench allowed bail to Shehbaz Sharif.

The PML-N president was arrested on Sept 28, 2020, after the LHC refused to further extend his pre-arrest bail. He was first granted an interim pre-arrest bail on June 3 last year. He remained in NAB’s custody for 23 days till the trial court sent him on judicial remand on Oct 20, 2020.

In the past, Shehbaz Sharif was also arrested by NAB on Oct 5, 2018 in Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme reference and later in Ramzan Sugar Mills case.

The LHC had released him on bail in both cases on Feb 17, 2019.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2021

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