ISLAMABAD   -  The Supreme Court will take up the National Accountability Bureau’s appeal for bail cancellation of Leader of Opposition and President Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Shehbaz Sharif on April 9.

The top court on the same date will also hear another clubbed appeal for bail cancellation of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s principal secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad.

A three-judge bench headed by Sheikh Azmat Saeed will hear the appeals. The other members of the bench include Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Ijazul Ahsan. 

Accountability watchdog last week had approached the top court challenging the Lahore High Court (LHC) verdict, wherein the leader of opposition and ex-principal secretary were granted bails in billions of rupees scams of Ashiana Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills.

NAB in October last year had arrested the leader of the opposition in connection with the Ashiana Housing case on charges of alleged misuse of authority by unlawfully assuming powers of the board of directors of the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) and awarding a contract to an ineligible firm that resulted in the failure of the housing scheme. The alleged scam caused a loss to the public exchequer and deprived more than sixty thousand applicants of houses, according to NAB.

Fawad in his statement before NAB, had claimed that he had awarded a contract to a blue-eyed firm in Rs.14 billion at the behest of Shahbaz Sharif.

The accountability watchdog believes that the contract for the housing scheme was won by a construction company titled Chaudhry Latif and Sons but Sharif cancelled it and awarded the contract to Lahore Casa Developers – a proxy group of Paragon City (Pvt) Limited, which claimed to be owned by ex-Railways Minister Saad Rafique

However, LHC in February this year granted bail to Shahbaz Sharif ruling that the allegations of misuse of authority and cancelling the first contract of the scheme against Shahbaz Sharif have not been supported by any documentary evidence of NAB.

“Moreover, the allegation against Shehbaz Sharif/petitioner that he got cancelled the contract of M/s Chaudhry Abdul Latif & Sons has also not been supported by the record of the present case because the contract was never cancelled rather the matter was settled through a written agreement with the mutual consent of the parties,” observed LHC.

It added that there was no mentioning in the record that Shahbaz Sharif, the former chief minister Punjab, was a signatory to the mutual agreement signed by Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) then chief executive officer Shahid Latif and contractor Chaudhry Amir Latif.

Even another PLDC’s former CEO Tahir Khurshid, the star witness of the NAB, had not uttered a single word in his statement that he was pressurised by Shahbaz Sharif to cancel the contract, LHC added.

LHC ruled that the project was transferred with the approval of PLDC board of directors. “It is evident from the record that the PLDC BoD itself decided to transfer Ashiana-i-Iqbal Project to the LDA for its execution through public private partnership mode.”

LHC also wondered as to why the NAB is insisting that the project should have been executed in the government mode instead of public private partnership mode when the later mode is also lawful in accordance with the Public Private Partnership Act 2014.

“It is also noteworthy that even the sitting government has launched a project for the construction of 5,000,000 houses in Pakistan under the same mode i.e. public private partnership and no objection has so far been raised in this respect by the NAB,” the written order said.

It further observed that being chief minister of the province, Shahbaz Sharif had the authority under the Punjab government Rules of Business 2011 to transfer any subject or matter mentioned in the 2nd schedule from one department to any other department.

LHC further noted that the NAB also failed to establish any relation between Shahbaz Sharif and the owners of M/s Paragon City.

“Not a single inch of the state land has been transferred in the name of any person/contractor till today. Not a single affectee of the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Scheme out of 61,000 affectees as claimed by the NAB made any statement before it,” LHC observed adding that prima facie there is no affectee in this case because no amount for the allotment of any plot from any person has been received so far except non-refundable fee of Rs1,000 against an application form, which was also deposited in the government treasury.

Regarding Ramzan Sugar Mills scam, NAB had alleged that Shahbaz Sharif had issued a directive for the construction of a drain in Chiniot district primarily for the use of Ramzan Sugar Mills owned by his sons. Rs.200 million was spent for this purpose from public money, according to NAB.

However, LHC verdict observed that the said drain constructed by the government in Chiniot is for the benefit of the public at large and no evidence has been found on record against the then chief minister to substantiate the allegations.