ISLAMABAD     -      The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notice to Leader of Opposition Shehbaz Sharif on the National Accountability Bureau appeal challenging Lahore High Court’s verdict, wherein it granted bail to him in the Ashiana Housing scam.

The top court also issued notice to ex-secretary (Implementation) to Chief Minister Punjab Fawad Hassan Fawad for his alleged involvement in the scam. Another main accused ex-Director General Lahore Development Authority Ahad Khan Cheema has also been issued the notice.

The top court has also issued notices to other 10 accused persons in the scam and decided that the bench will hear all the connected petitions in the case. The other respondents include Project Coordinator Bilal Kadwai, bidder Kamran Kayani, Shahid Shafiq Alam, Shahid Mahmood, Muhammad Sadiq, Munir Zia, Director Paragon City (Pvt) Limited Nadeem Zia, Director Land of Paragon City Khalid Hussain and Ali Sajjad.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and comprising Justice Maqbool Baqar and Justice Ijazul Ahsan took up sets of appeals filed by NAB for hearing.

Advocate Naeem Bukhari, appearing on behalf of NAB, contended before the bench that the high court has applied its mind by discussing merits of the case while hearing bail application despite the fact that neither any evidence was placed on record nor any witness was produced.

He argued that the high court erred in law by handling down a very long order consisting of over 21 pages and discussed the whole evidence in a bail matter, adding the high court had not called for entire evidence to be recorded and jumped to conclusion.

He further contended that the LHC’s conclusion drawn on merits of the case in bail applications will prejudice the case.

He contended that the LHC also failed to appreciate the criteria laid down by the top court to grant bail in only cases of hardship and extraordinary circumstances. He argued that no judicial mind was applied on criminal intent of Shehbaz Sharif, who according to NAB is architect of entire scam.

Justice Ahsan remarked that the LHC had not found sufficient grounds for the allegations against Shehbaz Sharif and believed that all contracts seem to have been granted by him on merit.

Advocate Bukhari argued that Shehbaz Sharif being then chief minister of Punjab was architect of the scam and awarded the contract of the project in connivance with ex-DG LDA Cheema.

He further explained that Shehbaz Sharif could not intervene in the functioning of Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC), a provincial government’s owned company, further claiming that Shehbaz Sharif being chief minister summoned PLDC’s chief executive officer at his residence and issued nine orders.

Eight out of nine orders were for the purpose of strengthening Cheema, Bukhari claimed, further accused Fawad of receiving Rs55 million through bank accounts of his brother and sister-in-law from another accused namely  Kayani, the second highest bidder.

He further contended that the first contract was cancelled with mala fide intentions and Paragon Housing (Pvt) Limited was then awarded the contract for 2,000 kanals of land for Rs4 billion. He said that all this was done to benefit the company namely Paragon Housing (Pvt) Limited.

He further informed the bench that due to the scam 6100 applicants in Ashiana Scheme hanging in the way.

“This case eminently calls for notice,” Advocate Bukhari pleaded.  He further said that Fawad was granted post-arrest bail but he is under arrest in another case. The top court while issuing the notice adjourned the hearing till May 2.

According to the NAB’s Investigation Report and main Reference, the PLDC was established with the prime responsibility to develop modern housing schemes for the low-income group in districts of Punjab. The Company’s business is carried out by its Board of Directors (BoD) which was the competent forum for core decision making.

As envisaged in the 1st Schedule of Punjab Government Rule of business 2011, the PLDC is autonomous body and the projects with PLDC cannot be transferred to LDA. Under Section 12 and 14 of the abovementioned Rules, the chief minister is not empowered to interest the project work to the LDA and a glaring violation in this regard has been committed with guilty intention and to benefit the person of their choice.

“In the present case this legal position has been mala fide and with criminal intention has been violated to benefit the persons of their choice by the accused (Sharif),” the supplementary reference stated.

In 2012, the provincial government launched Ashiana Housing Scheme and land measuring 3100 Kanal approximately situated at Burki Road Lahore was allocated to PLDC by the provincial government.

According to the reference, Sharif illegally with criminal intent and mala fide intentions misused his authority by unilaterally and unlawfully usurping the PLDC’s powers transferred the project to LDA which was headed by Cheema who in connivance with the co-accused persons awarded the contract of Ashiana Project to M/s Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy JV of M/s Paragon Housing (pvt) Limited.