LAHORE  -   In a surprising move on Friday, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested former Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif for alleged embezzlement in Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme.

He was detained as he appeared before the bureau in the Saaf Pani Company and Ashiana Housing Scheme scams. His car and personal security staff was sent back after his arrest.

The arrest came after Lahore Development Authority ex-DG Ahad Cheema and former Principal Secretary to PM Fawad Hasan Fawad – who are already in NAB custody – reportedly turned approvers against him.

Fawad in his statement before NAB in August claimed that he had awarded Ashiana Housing project contract to a “favourite firm” at Shehbaz's behest.

The ex-CM will be presented before Admin Judge Syed Najmul Hassan on Saturday (today) and investigators will request the accountability court for his 14-day physical remand, said NAB prosecutor Waris Ali Janjua.

Lawyer Amjad Pervez will represent Shehbaz before the court. A press release issued by NAB headquarter in Islamabad said that the arrested leader will be kept in a highly-secured lock-up at bureau’s Lahore office until his court appearance.

Shehbaz is a brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified to hold public office by the Supreme Court last year in a much politicised corruption case, and later jailed in a graft case.

After dethronement of his elder brother, Shehbaz had assumed the formal leadership of the then ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. After losing this year’s election, he is now also Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly.

Reaction

Scores of charged PML-N activists gathered outside NAB Lahore office after the news spread about the arrest of their leader, which comes just days before the Oct 14 by-polls.

The traffic on Lahore-Multan Road remained suspended for hours as a result. Heavy contingent of police in riot gear and Rangers had been deployed outside the NAB office at Thokar Niazbeg for security.

The PML-N claimed that the arrest of Shehbaz was illegal and it showed government’s desperation as it feared its defeat in the by-elections.

A meeting of PML-N parliamentary party condemned the arrest and said Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly cannot be arrested without permission of the NA speaker.

But some media reports quoted NAB sources as saying that the bureau had informed the NA speaker before and after the arrest.

PML-N spokeswoman Marriyum Aurangzeb also said the arrest was a move to "influence" upcoming by-elections that are crucial for Prime Minister Imran Khan's coalition government. "This is nothing but political victimisation," she told reporters in Islamabad.

Shehbaz’s son Hamza Shahbaz, who is Leader of Opposition in Punjab Assembly, also accused PTI government of targeting PML-N leadership and implicating them in false cases.

Addressing a press conference in Lahore, he claimed that national exchequer had not suffered the loss of "even a single penny" in the case in which his father was arrested.

But Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry rejected the allegations. In a tweet, Chaudhry said that NAB was an independent body and federal government will only assist the anti-graft body in implementation of its decisions as per law.

Fawad reiterated PTI government’s resolve to bring all those to book who have looted national wealth. Later talking to reporters, the minister also assured NAB of all help in its investigations.

 

 

Case history

In November 2017, NAB had launched a thorough probe into the affairs of the 56 public-sector companies formed by Shehbaz administration in Punjab for their alleged involvement in corruption.

A NAB source said that Fawad Hasan Fawad had provided “incriminating evidence” against the ex-chief minister which made it difficult for him to defend himself before a combined investigation team of NAB Lahore.

According to a NAB notice sent to the former Punjab chief minister on January 16, 2018, Shahbaz is accused of ordering the cancellation of award of contract of Ashiana-i-Iqbal to successful bidder Chaudhry Latif and Sons, leading to award of the contract to Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy group of Paragon City Private Limited, which resulted in the loss of approximately Rs193,000 million.

He is also accused of directing the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) to assign the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), resulting in the award of contract to the Lahore Casa developers, causing the loss of Rs715m and the ultimate failure of the project.

NAB has also accused Shahbaz of directing the PLDC to award the consultancy services of the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to Engineering Consultancy Services Punjab (ECSP) for Rs 192m while the actual cost was supposed to be Rs35m as quoted by Nespak.

 

 

Bad news for Rafique brothers

In a related development, Punjab Information Minister Fiazul Hassan Chohan told the media that former Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother Khawaja Salman Raqfique are also likely to be arrested when they appear before the bureau on October 16.

Saad and Salman, who is former Punjab health minister, are said allegedly involved in the Paragon Housing Scheme ‘corruption’ case, and Chohan said that according to his information their names have been put on the Exit Control List (ECL).

But federal information minister was quick to contradict this statement. Fawad Chaudhry said that no decision had been made to place the names of the two brothers on the no-fly list.

NAB had launched an investigation in November last year into a mega land scam involving Khwaja Saad Rafique’s Paragon Housing Society in Lahore and the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC).

The bureau had written to the PLDC to submit record regarding its project – Ashiana Iqbal Lahore – for which a contract agreement was signed between the PLDC and Anhui Construction Engineering Group owned by Director Paragon Exchange Ali Sajjad, Bismillah Engineering Company owned by the chief executive of Paragon City Nadeem Zia and Sparco Group.

In April this year, NAB’s Lahore chapter sought an explanation from the brothers regarding “exchange of their 50-Kanal piece of land with ‘developed plots’ measuring 40 Kanal in Paragon Housing Society through an agreement.

Terming the deal ‘dubious’ as such a practice is not a routine in land exchange matters, the NAB has not since received a reply from the Khwaja brothers.

 

 

NAB arrests Shehbaz in Ashiana scandal