ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday dismissed three petitions filed against the auction of three properties associated with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The accountability court had on April 22 directed the revenue authorities of the Punjab government to auction unclaimed properties of Mr Sharif within 60 days since he is absconding in Toshakhana reference.
Accountability Judge Syed Asghar Ali had allowed an application filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), seeking directives for the authorities concerned to sell the attached properties of Mr Sharif under Section 88 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
Three petitioners challenged the order of the district administration to auction three properties — a house at Lahore’s Upper Mall and two different agricultural lands measuring 88 kanals and 105 acres.
The deputy commissioners of Lahore and Sheikhupura have been directed to sell immovable properties within 60 days which include House No. 135, Upper Mall, Lahore, and 88.4 kanals of agricultural land in Ferozwattan in Sheikhupura district.
The petitioners namely Mian Barkat Ali, Aslam Aziz and Ashraf Malik challenged the auction of these properties.
During the course of hearing, advocate Qazi Misbah ul Hassan, representing the petitioners, told the IHC that the deputy commissioner in contradiction to the order of the accountability court had announced auction of “disputed” properties.
The IHC division bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri asked the counsel as to why the petitions were filed at the eleventh hour as the auction was due on May 20.
The lawyer said that the claimants could file objection to the order of the accountability court within six months. He said that the petitioners did not know about the auction and they learnt just before Eid holidays that the properties were going to be auctioned.
The counsel argued that under section 88 of the CrPC, properties were auctioned to compel an absconder to surrender before trial court but this auction would not force Mr Sharif to surrender since the properties did not belong to him.
While dismissing the petitions, the court ruled that the petitioners had alternative remedy as they could have filed objection before the accountability court that had ordered auction of the properties.
The court order further ruled that under section 88 of CrPC such objections could only be raised before trial court. The high court can only be approached to seek a relief that cannot be sought from any alternative forum.
Mian Barkat had challenged the auction of House No 135, Upper Mall, saying that the house was among those non-corporate assets of Ittefaq Group, which were settled during overall settlement among seven families who were members of Ittefaq Group.
These families were of Mian Mohammad Sharif, Mian Mohammad Shafi, Mian Mehrajuddin, Mian Sirajuddin, Mian Barkat Ali, Mian Abdul Aziz and Mian Idrees Bashir.
Mr Barkat’s petition stated that a committee comprising Javed Shafi, Waqas Riaz, Suleman Shehbaz and Mukhtar Hussain executed a joint agreement on April 6, 2014 and the “house in question came to the share of Mian Barkat Ali and family.”
The petitioner claimed that this was “well within the knowledge of investigating officer of NAB” and the bureau deliberately concealed this fact from the trial court.
Petitioner Aslam Aziz said in his petition that the deputy commissioner had ordered auction of 105 acres and 10 marla of land situated in Manak revenue estate, Lahore tehsil and district.
The land consisted of the family graveyard of Mian Mohammad Sharif and orchids of kinnow, grape fruit, lemon, fig, grape, guava, jaman, Mango and other fruits, the petition said. The land was initially attached and then was directed to be sold within 60 days after receipt of the accountability court’s order of April 22.
It further stated that an official of the district administration on May 7 approached the petitioner to seek possession of the land which was leased out to the petitioner by Mr Sharif.
According to the petition, the land is paying revenue to the provincial government and the petitioner is earning livelihood through the land and he cannot be deprived of his legitimate source of earning.
The third petitioner Ashraf Malik claimed that the land measuring 88 kanal and 4-1/2 marla situated in Moza Ferozwattan, Sheikhupura district, was on the list of the properties of Nawaz Sharif.
The petition stated that Mr Malik acquired the land from Mr Sharif by paying Rs75 million to him vide a sale agreement of May 29, 2019.
The petition stated that the transactions had been made through banking channels but since Mr Sharif was apprehended by NAB, the agreement could not be executed and a suit for execution of the land was pending with the senior civil judge of Sheikhupura.
The three petitions requested the court to set aside the order of auction of these properties.
According to the Toshakhana reference, former president Asif Ali Zardari had obtained luxury vehicles by paying only 15 per cent of the price of the vehicles. Of three vehicles, he gifted a 1991 model Mercedes to Mr Sharif.
NAB alleged that former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had facilitated the allotment of the vehicles to Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif by dishonestly and illegally relaxing the procedure for acceptance and disposal of gifts vide a Cabinet Division memorandum of 2007.
Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2021