LAHORE: Former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and two former bureaucrats, Fawad Hassan Fawad and Ahad Khan Cheema, were acquitted in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case on Saturday.
Mr Fawad served as the principal secretary to ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, while Mr Cheema was former Lahore Development Authority (LDA) director general.
Accountability Court Judge Ali Zulqarnain issued the acquittal order of the accused and allowed their applications, filed under Section 265-K of the CrPC.
Under the said section, an accused can file an application at any stage of the trial — even before the framing of charges.
Judge says conviction ‘not possible’ anymore
Earlier, NAB Prosecutor Waris Ali Janjua submitted a report on the interpretation of a recent order by the Supreme Court wherein trial courts were stopped from deciding corruption cases until a decision was made on appeals filed against the judgement on NAB law amendments.
He said the apex court’s order didn’t apply to acquittal applications as the trial court heard them on merits, and the defunct amendments in the law had nothing to do with the proceedings.
The prosecutor said legal advice had been sought from the attorney general for Pakistan before preparing the report.
At the last hearing on Nov 7, the judge had put off the final decision on acquittal pleas and ordered the prosecutor to seek clarification from the attorney general’s office on the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on this case.
After the NAB prosecutor’s report, the judge allowed the acquittal applications and observed there was “no probability of conviction” in the case.
Reasons for the acquittal would be issued in a detailed order.
Other than the three accused, Shahid Shafiq, the chief executive of Bismillah Engineering, Israr Saeed, a former LDA chief engineer, Bilal Qidwai, Imtiaz Haider and Arif Butt were also acquitted.
In their plea, the accused contended that all approvers and prosecution witnesses had resiled from their statements, and there was no possibility of conviction.
Kamran Kayani, the brother of former army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and Nadeem Zia of Paragon City have already been acquitted for want of evidence.
In a supplementary report filed in May, NAB told the trial court that it found no evidence of financial corruption or misuse of authority against Mr Sharif.
The report maintained that the offence of misuse of authority and corruption against the former prime minister had not been established under the National Accountability Ordinance 1999.
When it filed the case in 2018, NAB alleged that Mr Sharif, as Punjab chief minister, and the other accused caused a huge loss to the national exchequer by awarding the housing scheme’s contract to a company without a bidding process.
NAB arrested Mr Cheema, the ex-LDA DG, in Feb 2018 and the ex-PM in October that year.
The anti-corruption watchdog had alleged that Mr Cheema got 32 kanals of land from the owners of Paragon City Developers as a reward for allegedly awarding the company the contract for building the low-cost housing scheme.
Mr Cheema was released on bail after almost two years in prison.
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2023