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February 12, 2019

LHC rejects NAB’s plea in Ashiana case

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February 12, 2019

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday rejected the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) petition seeking a change of bench hearing the Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif’s bail petition in the Ashiana Housing Scheme scam.

The LHC Chief Justice Sardar Muhammad Shamim Khan, heard the NAB’s plea and ruled that the same bench will hear the petition. In its plea, the accountability watchdog had stated, “A two-judge bench headed by Justice Malik Shahzad and comprising Justice Mirza Viqas Rauf is hearing Shahbaz’s bail petition in Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case and it should be transferred to a bench headed by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi.” He pointed out that another division bench headed by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi had already decided bail petitions of the co-accused in the housing scheme scam. Therefore, he said the bail petition of the former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif should also be heard by the same bench. The counsel also referred to a Supreme Court judgment in support of his arguments. However, the chief justice dismissed the application for being not maintainable. “There are already many complaints against the NAB, now it also wants to form the bench according to its choice!” the judge remarked. On October 6, NAB had arrested the PML-N president in the Ashiana Housing Scheme case and he is currently in jail on remand.

Meanwhile, the bench headed by Justice MalikShahzad Ahmad Khan adjourned the further hearing of the bail petitions moved by Shahbaz Sharif as the arguments of NAB special prosecutor Akram Qureshi and defence counsel were underway. Qureshi argued that Shahbaz Sharif being the chief minister unlawfully exercised powers of the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) Board of Directors (BoD) and entrusted the project to Lahore Development Authority (LDA) after cancelling the first lawful contract of the housing scheme awarded to Latif and Sons Company. He said the PLDC is an autonomous body and the chief minister has no power to intervene in its affairs.

To a query from the bench, the prosecutor admitted that though there is no direct evidence against Shahbaz Sharif of misuse of authority but as per prosecution witnesses the former secretary implementation to chief minister Fawad Hassan Fawad carried out all the illegal acts on the instructions of Shahbaz Sharif.

Opposing the bail petition on merits, Qureshi said there is no delay in the trial so no ground has been made out at this stage. Challenging the medical grounds taken by the former CM for the grant of bail, the special prosecutor argued that as per the Supreme Court’s judgments the bail could be allowed on medical reasons if the sickness is detrimental to life. In the present case, he said, the petitioner has no such hardship or sickness.

On the other side, defence counsel Amjad Pervez argued that Shahbaz Sharif being then chief minister had not ordered the cancellation of the housing scheme’s first contract. He said it was the BoD of the PLDC that approved the cancellation. About the transfer of the project from PLDC to LDA, he said the Punjab government rules of business allowed the chief minister to transfer any subject of a department to another department. He said Shahbaz Sharif took no unlawful decision nor he misused his authority.

The bench adjourned the hearing until Tuesday (today) asking the defence side to come up with more arguments. The bench also sought arguments from the counsel of Fawad Hassan Fawad on his bail petition in the same case.

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