ISLAMABAD: An accountability court in Lahore on Monday granted permanent exemption from personal appearance to Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in a case relating to the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme.
At the outset of today’s hearing, PM Shahbaz Sharif pleaded with the court to grant him permanent exemption from personal appearance in the case citing national responsibilities.
Former Lahore Development Authority (LDA) chairman Ahad Khan Cheema was also present in the court today. Earlier in the day, the court, after hearing the arguments of both sides, had reserved its verdict.
When called to the rostrum by the judge, the prime minister said, “Whenever the court summoned me, I ensured my presence in the court. This is my duty as well as responsibility.”
“But now, I have a huge responsibility on my shoulders,” the prime minister said, adding that he requested for permanent exemption from personal appearance to perform the national duties.
PM Shahbaz assured the court that he would follow the court’s order even if his application is rejected.
NAB opposes PM Shahbaz’s plea
Meanwhile, the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) prosecutor opposed the prime minister’s plea, saying that there were no solid reasons for his exemption from personal appearance in the case.
He maintained that the prime minister did not submit his medical certificate along with the application for exemption from personal appearance.
Ramzan Sugar Mills case
CM Hamza Shahbaz did not appear before the accountability court in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case as his legal team filed an application for one-time exemption from personal appearance saying their client was busy owing to the budget session.
No stake in Ashiana Scheme, Ramzan Sugar Mills: PM Shahbaz
During the course of proceedings of the Rs16bn money laundering case on June 11, PM Shahbaz, addressed the court, stating: “I am obliged to inform the court of the truth regarding my bail.”
He said that the case by the FIA is identical to that being pursued by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
“The cases against me pertain to the Ashiana [Housing Scheme] and Ramzan Sugar Mills,” said Shahbaz.
“You have no ownership of them?” asked the judge.
“I have no stake in either,” PM Shahbaz responded.
Speaking of NAB’s investigation against him, he said that the bureau moved the Supreme Court against him, despite the fact that the Lahore High Court had issued a detailed verdict in the case.
He said that the then chief justice had asked for proof of corruption against him after which NAB “panicked and fled”.
Speaking of FIA’s probe, PM Shahbaz went on to state: “The FIA visited me twice when I was in NAB detention, but I refused to answer without my attorney’s input.”
He said the FIA was provided with all the facts verbally. “My cases were decided on their merit, and I emerged clean,” he remarked.
The Ashiana Housing case
The anti-graft watchdog has accused Shehbaz of misusing his powers while being the chief minister of Punjab in an inquiry pertaining to Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC).
The inquiry conducted so far reveals sufficient evidence to prove the involvement of former chief minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif “in the commission of offences as defined under section 9(a) and Schedule of the National Accountability Bureau 1999.
The inquiry conducted states that Shehbaz Sharif as the chief minister of Punjab had unlawfully assumed powers of Board of Directors of Punjab Land and Development Company (PLDC), misused his authority and acted in connivance with Fawad Hassan Fawad who at the time was Secretary Implementation to CM Punjab and others. Contracts awarded to M/s Ch. A Latif and sons for the development and infrastructure of Ashiana Iqbal Housing Project were illegally cancelled.
As the chief minister, Shehbaz Sharif in a meeting on October 21, 2014 unlawfully directed PLDC to entrust the project of Ashiana Iqbal Punjab to LDA. This decision of Sharif was illegal and mala fide as PLDC was the company which was established for undertaking such housing projects. Shehbaz is accused of illegally transferring this project to LDA, which was headed by his close aide Ahad Khan Cheema.
Shehbaz is also accused of working in connivance with other accused in the case and directed LDA to undertake Ashiana Iqbal Project under Public Private Partnership mode. NAB states this was done in order to give “unlawful benefit to blue-eyed firm namely M/s Bismillah Engineering Service Company, which was a proxy firm to M/s Paragon City.”