Shahzad Ahmad

LAHORE - An accountability court here on Saturday granted 10 days physical remand of PML-N president and former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The anti-corruption watchdog had arrested him in Rs14 billion Ashiana Iqbal Housing Scheme case on Friday, accusing him of awarding project contracts to his favourite company.

Shehbaz, who is also Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, was produced before the court and was represented by Azam Nazeer Tarar and Amjad Pervez before Judge Najmul Hasan Bokhari.

A large number of leaders and workers of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz had also gathered outside at the court and created quite a show there. Those who succeeded in reaching the courtroom kept creating rumpus there.

The judge resorted to conducting the hearing in his chamber but the defence opposed it, making him hear the case in open court amid deafening noise and commotion.

NAB prosecutor sought 15-day physical remand of Shehbaz, arguing that he had misused his powers as CM and his actions caused a big loss to the national exchequer.

Presenting details of the case, he said that the accused had committed corruption with active abetment and assistance of private individuals as well as public officials.

The defence lawyers vehemently opposed NAB’s remand plea accusing the bureau officials of deceiving his client as he appeared for routine hearing of one case and was arrested in the other one.

They said there was no need for granting physical remand as their client was ready to join investigation whenever and wherever summoned by the bureau.

Addressing the court himself, Shehbaz said he was being politically victimised. Rejecting NAB’s claim of causing loss to the national kitty, he claimed of saving billions of rupees through his personal efforts and sacrifice.

After hearing both the parties, the judge remanded PML-N chief in NAB custody for 10 days, and he was later shifted to NAB Lahore office in an armoured vehicle.

Scene outside the court

Shehbaz Sharif was brought to the court for hearing in an under heavy security. The squad included a fire engine, a rescue van and scores of security officers.

On arrival of their leader, the emotionally charged workers mounted the armoured vehicle carrying Shehbaz, chanting slogans in his favour. They were forced off by the police.

Police also refused to let PML-N leaders and workers inside the building. Only PML-N president’s son Hamza Shahbaz and party leaders Malik Ahmed Ehsan and Malik Ahmed Khan were allowed to enter the courtroom.

Party spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb and Pervez Malik protested along with other PML-N workers gathered outside the court building since morning.

Other prominent party leaders who had arrived at there were Hamza’s brother Salman Shehbaz, former state minister Saira Afzal Tarar, former federal minister Khurram Dastgir and Khawaja Ahmad Hassan.

PML-N leaders and workers cashed in on the delay in the hearing, and raised a rumpus against the authorities.

Dozens of lawyers present in the court and a few party workers were found expressing solidarity with the PML-N leaders and taking selfies and videos with them.

Hamza and Salman were revered by the PML-N lawyers so much so that the front chairs, only meant for the black coats, were offered to them.

A female lawyer climbed up the rostrum and started sloganeering in favour of Shehbaz and Hamza. The court staff intervened in her performance and stopped her from desecrating the court.

As the judge came in the courtroom, he found a number of PML-N leaders and activists creating fuss, and shouting political slogans.

The judge summoned NAB prosecutor and Shehbaz’s lawyers in his chamber and began the case hearing there. But tapping of chamber’s door by PML-N activists and full-throat sloganeering continued unabated.

Shehbaz and his lawyers opposed the hearing in judge’s chamber and demanded to conduct it in open court, saying it was in-camera proceeding.

On their request, the judge resumed the hearing in the open court. But there was no letup in the ruckus being created by the political party workers and lawyers.

Details of court hearing

During the court hearing, NAB prosecutor informed the court that competent authority had authorised an inquiry against officials of Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC), Lahore Casa Developers, Lahore Development Authority (LDA) and others.

He said the inquiry, initiated through a letter, was later converted into investigation and the accused officials and others were presently being tried in court under interim reference No 50/2018.

The prosecutor further said that Shehbaz Sharif was arrested the other day after issuance of his arrest warrants by NAB chairman.

He said the PLDC, a public sector company owned by Punjab government awarded contract for Ashiana scheme’s infrastructure development to the lowest bidder namely M/s Ch A Latif and Sons on 24-01-2013.

He said the contract was awarded after completion of open bidding process and after due approval of the Board of Directors of PLDC, which after entering into the contract agreement issued mobilisation advance of Rs75 million to said contractor.

The prosecutor said, “The contractor also started working on the site of the project. Whereas none of the losing bidders filed any complaint before the grievance committee of the PLDC regarding any objection on the bidding process within stipulated time of 15 days.

However, Shehbaz on 25-02-2013, illegally and unlawfully, formed an inquiry committee headed by then finance secretary Tariq Bajwa to review the whole tendering process. The committee submitted a report on 15-03-2013, saying that the bidding process was largely carried out as per the rules.

The NAB official alleged that the accused being then chief minister unlawfully assumed powers of Board of Directors of PLDC, misused his authority and acted with connivance of Fawad Hassan Fawad, the then secretary (implementation) to Punjab CM.

The accused illegally and with malafide intentions forwarded the matter to Anti Corruption Establishment (ACE) to kneel down the successful bidder to their whims, he added. The accused vide orders dated 20-03-2013 referred the matter to ACE even without knowledge of BoD of PLDC on a false and unlawful complaint, he maintained.

The NAB prosecutor further said that investigation had revealed that the Conpro Services (Pvt) Limited owner, who filed the complaint, had bribed Fawad Hassan in millions of rupees during the same period - which requires further probe.

He further alleged that Shehbaz unlawfully directed PLDC to entrust the Ashiana project to LDA as PLDC was established for housing projects and its decisions were to be taken by its BoD. The ex-CM not only negated the objective of PLDC’s creation but also caused huge loss to the national exchequer.

The former CM illegally transferred the project to LDA which was headed by his close aide Ahad Khan Cheema, the prosecutor claimed. Cheema in connivance with Shehbaz Sharif awarded contract of Ashiana Iqbal illegally and received gratification.

“Furthermore, he (Shehbaz) directed LDA to undertake the project under public-private partnership mode just to give unlawful benefit to M/s Paragon City,” the official said.

He said that it was done to give undue benefit of 2,000 kanal state land, worth Rs14 billion, under the garb of remuneration for the construction of flats in Ashiana Iqbal Barki Road Lahore.

Concluding his arguments, he said that the accused had committed offences of corruption and corrupt practices with active aid, abetment and assistance of private individuals as well as public officials.

Accordingly, he submitted, the physical custody of the accused is essential to conclude the investigation by securing the evidence and indentifying the other co-accused persons.

On the other side, the defence lawyers vehemently opposed the plea of the NAB to get 15-day physical remand of the accused.

He said that Shehbaz was arrested after appearing for a routine hearing of Saaf Pani Company scam at the NAB’s Lahore office, but was arrested in Ashiyana Housing Project thus deceived by the watchdog’s officials.

They said that the accused was ready and willing to join investigation whenever and wherever he is summoned by the NAB. Therefore, they said, physical remand of the accused may not be granted to the NAB.

Besides his lawyers, Shehbaz himself talked to the court and said that the case was made against him on political basis. He rejected NAB’s claim that he caused a huge loss to the national exchequer.

Rather, he claimed, he saved billions of rupees through his personal efforts. He also claimed that he sacrificed even his sleep for the purpose. He said that he had saved Rs75 billion in Orange Line Train project.

After hearing both the parties, the court approved a remand of 10 days, and ordered that Shahbaz be produced before the court again on October 16.

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In his full order, Judge Syed Najmul Hasan Bokhari stated that Shehbaz’s counsel had opposed the NAB’s application for their client’s physical remand citing his cooperation with the investigation and the fact that “the scam is based on documentary evidence”.

“This is the first physical remand of the accused and he has been served with grounds of arrest,” the court observed in the order. “Being white collar crime of mega corruption, the hidden aspects still have to be unearthed by joining the accused in the investigation ... so the application is allowed.”