LAHORE: An accountability court on Friday acquitted Ahad Khan Cheema, the special assistant to caretaker prime minister, in a reference of assets beyond means.

Judge Ali Zulqernain Awan announced a reserved verdict and allowed an acquittal application of Cheema, who was present in the court.

“First of all, I express gratitude to Allah Almighty. This is a moment of happiness for me and my family,” Cheema said speaking to the media.

The former bureaucrat said he was also thankful to those who trusted in him, supported him, and stood by him.

He said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed the reference six years ago, and during this time, everyone at the civil secretariat had been with him.

In a supplementary report filed before the court, the NAB declared that Cheema did not acquire any assets beyond his known sources of income.

It said the properties owned by the alleged benamidars/relatives of Cheema did not belong to him as they (benamidars) acquired the assets with their own independent and legitimate sources.

It said the NAB chairman in 2022 on an application of the accused ordered a reinvestigation on absolute merits.

The report maintained that the properties and the bank accounts owned by the relatives of the accused could not be linked to him.

It said the bureau incorporated the duly verified figures, the updated cash flow position of Cheema and found that he did not acquire any asset beyond his known sources of income or which he could not reasonably justify.

Mr Cheema was the Lahore Development Authority director general during the previous government of the PML-N in Punjab and the NAB had filed several references against him.

In the acquittal application, Cheema’s counsel argued that the NAB made the reference of illegal assets only to victimise the petitioner. He said the prosecution failed to present any cogent evidence against the petitioner during the trial of the reference.

He asked the court to allow the acquittal application of Cheema and acquit him in the reference as there was no possibility of his conviction.

The NAB had arrested Cheema in 2018 in the references of illegal assets and the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing scheme. He was released from jail in 2021 after the Supreme Court granted him bail.

An inquiry against him regarding alleged corruption in the LDA-City Housing Scheme was closed after the development partners promised to give plots to all the allottees.

On Nov 18, the accountability court acquitted Cheema besides former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and special assistant to caretaker prime minister Fawad Hassan Fawad in the Ashiana reference.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2023

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