Tuesday December 05, 2023

Shehbaz acquitted in Ashiana reference

Prosecutor further clarified that SC order did not prohibit court from delivering verdict in Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme reference

By Our Correspondent
November 19, 2023
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif. — AFP/File
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif. — AFP/File

LAHORE: An accountability court on Saturday acquitted former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and other accused in the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme reference.

The list of acquitted individuals included Caretaker Privatisation Minister Fawad Hassan Fawad, Special Assistant to Caretaker Prime Minister Ahad Cheema, Shahid Shafique, Bilal Qadwai, Imtiaz Haider, Israr Saeed, Arif Butt and others.

Accountability Court Judge Ali Zulqarnain Awan announced the verdict on acquittal applications of the accused, following a report submitted by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in response to the court’s query about the Supreme Court’s order of October 31. During Saturday’s proceedings, a NAB prosecutor stated that the accused did not derive any benefit from the amended NAB law, emphasising the reference was thoroughly examined on its merits.

The prosecutor further clarified that the Supreme Court order did not prohibit the court from delivering a verdict in the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme reference.

On November 1, the court had initially reserved its verdict after hearing arguments from both the applicant’s counsel and NAB prosecutors, with the intention to announce the verdict on Nov 7. However, on the scheduled day, the court postponed proceedings, seeking clarification from NAB due to perceived ambiguity arising from the Supreme Court order issued on October 31. The court conveyed that the verdict in the case would be issued after interpretation of the apex court’s order.

The Supreme Court, in its October 31 ruling, permitted accountability courts to continue proceedings in corruption cases but restrained them from issuing final orders.

A NAB report submitted in May had asserted that it did not find any evidence of financial corruption or misuse of authority against Shehbaz Sharif, stating that the allegations did not meet the criteria outlined in the National Accountability Ordinance of 1999.

Notably, in the Ashiana reference, the accountability court had previously acquitted Kamran Kiyani and Nadeem Zia on October 11, citing a lack of evidence.

NAB had filed the reference in 2018, alleging that Shehbaz Sharif and other accused had caused significant financial loss to the national treasury by awarding the housing scheme contract to a company without a competitive bidding process.

Meanwhile, PMLN Central Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb has expressed heartfelt gratitude for the acquittal of Shehbaz Sharif in the Ashiana Iqbal reference, highlighting the significance of justice prevailing in the face of baseless allegations.

In a statement, Ms Aurangzeb remarked, “Today marks a crucial moment of justice prevailing as Shehbaz Sharif is acquitted in the false Ashiana Iqbal reference. We express our gratitude to God Almighty for exonerating the PMLN President with honor and dignity. And we thank Shehbaz Sharif for the resilience and patience he demonstrated throughout this ordeal.”

Marriyum said that Shahbaz Sharif had been wrongly implicated in this case for political victimization and vengeance, stressing the injustice of his unwarranted confinement in prisons and penitentiaries despite his innocence. “Despite being innocent, Shehbaz Sharif was unjustly detained in connection with the Saaf Pani and Ashiana cases,” she stated.

She further emphasized that the acquittal in these false cases serves as a testament to the PMLN leader’s endurance and patience, stating, “Acquittal in false cases is a reward for the patience of innocent Shehbaz Sharif, Alhamdulillah. Today, people are getting to know how false cases were cooked-up to tarnish his reputation.”

Addressing the broader impact, Marriyum pointed out that these false cases led to a significant waste of the country’s time and precious resources. “Time and money of the country and the people of Pakistan were squandered by making false cases, all under the guise of accountability, which were, in reality, tactics of political victimization and personal vendetta driven revenge,” she said.

Highlighting Shehbaz Sharif’s distinguished service to Punjab and his pivotal role in saving the country from default, Marriyum underscored that the testimony of his innocence came from various courts, including the National Crime Agency of the country and Great Britain.

She concluded by shedding light on the nefarious tactics employed in manufacturing these false cases, stating, “False cases were concocted by holding Tayyaba Gul hostage in the Prime Minister’s House, calling journalists from abroad, and engaging in the reprehensible act of blackmailing chairman NAB. Slanders and accusations were propagated through the fabrication of these cases.”