LAHORE - Putting to rehearing a petition of former DG LDA Ahad Khan Cheema against his arrest by NAB in Ashiyana Housing scam and reconstitution of a full bench for hearing of several petitions against anti-judiciary speeches of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and other leaders of PML-N were the important developments at the Lahore High court last week.

Judicial remand of two accused by a national accountability court was another development in Ashiyana Housing Scam case last week. The case of shoe throwers at Nawaz Sharif in an anti-terrorism court also took U-turn.

On petitions against Nawaz, Maryam and other leaders of PML-N over their alleged anti-judiciary speeches, the LHC CJ reconstituted a full bench. The new bench would be headed by Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and comprising Justice Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Shahid Mubeen. The bench would resume hearing on Monday (today). The previous bench stood dissolved before taking up the petitions as Justice Shahid Hassan who was its member was transferred from principal seat to Multan. The CJP reconstituted the full bench by replacing him with Justice Shahid Mubeen.

Similarly, an LHC division bench seized with the hearing of NAB cases was also dissolved. The bench was also hearing the case of Ahad Cheema against his arrest by NAB in Ashiyana Housing scheme. According to the new roster, a new bench comprising Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan and Justice Muhammad Tariq Abbasi will start hearing of the NAB cases from April 2 to June 30.

However, an LHC division bench also issued notice to the NAB on a petition moved by Paragon City, Tipu Developers and Executive Builders against freezing of their bank accounts by the bureau.

 The companies’ lawyer argued that the NAB initiated an inquiry against the petitioners/companies and got their bank accounts frozen while no offence had so far been established. The counsel said the companies had been facing acute shortage of funds and were unable to pay salaries of their employees and run day-to-day affairs. He prayed to the court to order the NAB to unfreeze bank accounts of the petitioner companies immediately.

The bench dismissed the request for an instant relief and issued notice to the NAB for April 12.

Meanwhile, the bench turned down a petition filed by a co-suspect of Ahad Cheema challenging several provisions of the NAB ordinance.

 Shahid Shafiq Faridi of Bismillah Engineering contended through his counsel that the provisions of the ordinance empowering the NAB to make arrests on mere allegations had been revoked. He argued that the NAB acted beyond its jurisdiction by arresting the petitioner.

A NAB prosecutor, however, contended that no violation of law had been committed in the arrest of the petitioner. After hearing the arguments, the bench reserved judgment on the petition.

A national accountability court last week sent to jail on judicial remand two accused after they became approvers in Ashiyana housing scam.

The accused include LDA Chief Engineer Israr Saeed and Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) Chief Engineer Col (r) Arif Majeed.

NAB authorities had arrested six persons including former LDA DG Ahad Khan Cheema, Bismillah Engineering Company owner Shahid Shafiq, LDA Chief Engineer Israr Saeed, Punjab Land Development Company Chief Engineer Col (retd) Arif Majeed, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) PLDC Imtiaz Haider and another PLDC official Bilal Qudwai for their alleged involvement in Ashiyana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme’s scam.  All other accused except Israr Saeed and Arif Majeed would be produced before the court on April 3.

Ahad Cheema was arrested last month over charges of misusing his authority and, with criminal intent, processing and awarding Ashiana-e-lqbal project contract worth Rs14 billion to Lahore CASA Developers, a joint venture a firm which was ineligible for the same. The contract, in connivance with other accused persons, was awarded in violation of PPP Act, 2014.

NAB inquiry further revealed that Bismillah Engineering Services Co (a major shareholder of JV titled Lahore CASA Developers) was a proxy firm working on behalf of Paragon City (Pvt) Ltd.

Cheema allegedly received illegal gratification in the form of 32 kanals of land (valuing Rs30.09 million approximately from the owners of Paragon City (Pvt) Ltd.

Government is facing a liquidation loss of about Rs455 million as the estimated cost of construction of Ashiana Iqbal Housing Scheme has increased manifold due to delay in the project.

Last week, an LHC larger bench also accepted unconditional apology of former president of Multan high court bar association Sher Zaman Qureshi and discharged contempt proceeding pending against him.

The new full bench was constituted after the elevation of chief justice Shah to the Supreme Court.

On last hearing, Qureshi had appeared before the bench headed by CJ Muhammad Yawar Ali for the first time since a bench headed by former chief justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah had initiated the proceedings against him and another lawyer last year. Both lawyers had tendered their unconditional apology, which the bench accepted on Monday and discharged the contempt proceedings.

The former chief justice had initiated contempt proceedings against Qureshi and Advocate Syed Qaiser Abbas Kazmi for misbehaving a justice at Multan seat, obstructing judicial work and ransacking the court premises during an incident that took place on July 24, 2017. They had also removed nameplate of the judge.

 Qureshi had never appeared before the court rather his supporters held protests on each hearing of the case against the then chief justice Shah.

The bench headed by the former chief justice had also issued non-bailable warrants for the arrest of Qureshi, however, he withdrew the same after some senior bar leaders promised to make him produce before the court. Mr Qureshi refused to appear before the high court, however, made his appearance before Supreme Court when Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar took notice of the contempt proceedings on his personal appeal. He also escaped arrest when a police team raided district courts in Multan.

On Sept 6, 2017 CJP Nisar heard the appeal of Qureshi and summoned a report from the LHC registrar on the matter and also expected that the larger bench of the high court would not hold its further proceedings and wait for the decision.

Also, an LHC full bench ruled that the registrar office had no jurisdiction to decide maintainability of a petition when filed, however, could raise objections regarding technical shortcomings.

The tree-judge full bench headed by Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi gave the ruling while allowing a petition that challenged the registrar's powers to decide maintainability of petitions.

Senior lawyer AK Dogar argued on behalf of the petitioner and stated that the office, under the law, had no power to decide whether a petition was maintainable before the high court under Article 199 of the Constitution. He said the office could only examine technical requirements to file a petition and not the legal ones.

To decide whether a petition was legally maintainable was the jurisdiction of the court or judge only, he added.

The counsel further said that to decide maintainability of a petition was a judicial act, which could not be exercised by an officer of the high court except a judge.

The bench admitted the arguments of the counsel and restrained the office of the registrar from deciding legal questions of a petition. The bench observed that the office could only object to technical shortcomings of the petitions.

Besides it, Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh of the LHC overruled a registrar’s office objection on a petition challenging appointment of Ali Jahangir Siddiqui as Pakistan ambassador to U.S and directed the office to fix its hearing before an appropriate bench.

Barrister Javed Iqbal Jafree moved the petition, pleading that Siddiqui had been appointed without the mandatory approval of the federal cabinet. He said Siddique lacked relevant experience of diplomacy. He asked the court to set aside his nomination for appointment as ambassador to the US. The office had put objection on the maintainability of the petition.

The lawyer, however, pleaded the office had no jurisdiction to decide maintainability of a petition. Ali Jahangir Siddiqui is son of business tycoon Jahangir Siddiqui, who also owns JS Bank and JS Private Equity.