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June 27, 2019

NAB’s actions: Eight high profile politicians behind the bars, facing dicey future

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June 27, 2019

ISLAMABAD: After the grant of bail to former provincial minister Sharjeel Memon by the Sindh High Court (SHC), at least eight high-profile politicians, arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or convicted in references framed by it, are still behind bars, confronted with unpredictable future.

Memon remained in jail for twenty months. The NAB had taken him into custody on October 23, 2017 after the SHC had dismissed his bail application. Following its rejection, Memon had holed up for hours in the courtroom to avoid arrest as his team explored options to stave off the inevitable.

Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, who was apprehended by the NAB from Islamabad in February this year in a case of assets beyond means, is in prison since then. However, he continues to preside the sessions of the provincial assembly. Investigation against him is yet to be completed by the NAB.

The most conspicuous inmate is former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is locked up in Kot Lakhpat Jail Lahore due to his conviction by an accountability court of Islamabad. He is in prison since December 24. His bail request on medical grounds was discarded by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) last week. His main appeal against conviction and the NAB challenge to his acquittal in another reference are pending disposal in the IHC.

Before that, the Supreme Court dismissed his request for extension of his six-week bail, granted by it for treatment of his multiple diseases particularly serious heart problem. Leader of the opposition in the Punjab Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Hamza Shahbaz, seized by the NAB on June 11, is in the NAB custody on physical remand. As usual, the anti-corruption watchdog is expected to keep him with it for at least ninety days, the period allowed under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) for questioning.

He was nabbed after the Lahore High Court (LHC) rejected his interim bail in the Ramzan Sugar Mills and assets beyond means known sources of income cases. As generally happens, Hamza Shahbaz is likely to move the LHC seeking bail only after the expiry of the ninety-day remand period. However, the accused persons are allowed to approach the concerned high court even before that. In the wake of production orders issued by Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi with any hesitation, Hamza Shahbaz is regularly attending the ongoing budget session.

His capture took place a day after PPP Co-Chairman and former President Asif Ali Zardari was caught by the NAB after the IHC declined to extend his interim bail. His sister Faryal Talpur met the same fate with him, but she was confined at the Zardari House in Islamabad.

Speaker Asad Qaisar was reluctant to issue the production order for Zardari, saying that he has sought the legal opinion of the federal law ministry. Finally, he obliged the PPP chief after an intense pandemonium in the National Assembly for three days. The Sindh speaker has also order production of Faryal Talpur in the provincial assembly.

The Khawaja brothers – Saad Rafique and Salman Rafique- are the other prominent prisoners, apprehended by the NAB. They were taken into custody in December last after the LHC refused extension of their bails. After keeping them in custody for ninety days, they were sent to the jail by the concerned accountability court of Lahore on judicial remand.

The Punjab Assembly speaker instantly issued the production order for Salman Rafique enabling him to attend the current budget session while Asad Qaisar dilly-dallied for some days in obliging Saad Rafique like he did with Zardari. Ultimately, he issued the PML-N leader’s production order as well.

Another political NAB detainee is Sibtain Khan, who was the Punjab Minister for Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), when the action was taken against him on June 14. He later stepped down as minister.

He faces a case pertaining to illegal award of contracts. The NAB alleged that in July 2007 Sibtain Khan as the Punjab Minister for Mines and Minerals was involved in the illegal award of a multi-billion rupee contract for 500 metric tons of iron ore in Rajwah and Chiniot to a company of his choice. It claimed that the contract, which deviated from existing laws, was given through connivance with other suspects although the company did not have any previous experiencing in mining.

On the other hand, three key NAB detainees leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, Aleem Khan of the PTI and Eng. Qamarul Islam of the PML-N have been bailed out by the LHC after they spent various periods in jail. At the same time, some principal political players, who are facing NAB inquiries and investigations, fear arrests in the coming weeks.

Apart from senior politicians, the most noted bureaucrats held by the NAB including Fawad Hassan Fawad, the former principal secretary to the prime minister (Nawaz Sharif), and Ahad Cheema. Fawad Hassan was detained in July, 2018 in the Ashiana Iqbal Housing Scheme case. Before the LHC accepted his bail in this case, the NAB initiated an investigation against him for having assets beyond legitimate means. The LHC refused bail in the second case. Cheema was arrested in February, 2018 in the Ashiana Housing Scheme case for his role as the director general of the Lahore Development Authority.

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