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Accountability court sends Shahbaz on judicial remand

An accountability court in Lahore on Thursday sent PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif to Kot Lakhpat jail on judicial remand in connection with the Ashiana Housing Scheme case.

The Punjab government has granted approval for Shahbaz to be given ‘Better’ class jail facilities with immediate effect.

Shahbaz will be produced before the court again on Dec 13.

Shahbaz, who was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on October 5, has had his remand extended multiple times — the last of which took place on Nov 28.

That eight-day extension expired today, following which he was produced before the court, with the corruption watchdog seeking another extension of his physical remand.

Explore: A timeline of developments in the Ashiana housing ‘scam’

The request for physical remand was, however, turned down by the court.

In today’s hearing, Shahbaz’s lawyer Amjad Pervez told the court that details of his client’s finances from 2011 to 2017 were clearly stated in the records of his tax return. He added that “tax laws did not require citizens to mention details of gifts”.

Furthermore, Shahbaz had withdrawn money from his personal account, which is not a crime under Pakistan’s law, Pervez said. He argued that there was no evidence of Shahbaz spending more than his income.

“It would have been a crime if [Shahbaz’s expenses] had exceeded his tax returns,” Pervez said, urging the court to refuse NAB’s demand for extension of a physical remand.

Pervez said that Shahbaz was being accused of corruption because he is a politician and a former Punjab chief minister.

NAB prosecutor Waris Ali Janjua apprised the court of the investigation’s progress and requested a further 15-day extension in Shahbaz’s physical remand. According to NAB, Shahbaz had abused his powers during his time as the chief minister of Punjab.

Accountability judge Syed Najmul Hasan heard the case.

As Shahbaz was produced before the court, a commotion took place outside the courtroom after police denied lawyers entry on the purported orders of Superintendent of Police Iqrar Haider. Contingents of female officers were also posted outside the courtroom as women tried to force their way in. The disturbance did not die down despite Shahbaz and Hamza Shahbaz’s appeals for calm during the hearing.

Meanwhile, several PML-N workers were arrested from outside the court building following clashes with security officials. Reacting to the arrests, PML-N Spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb claimed that the party’s “peaceful workers had been arrested” and demanded their immediate release.

Policemen hold PML-N supporters outside the accountability court. — AFP
Policemen hold PML-N supporters outside the accountability court. — AFP

She said that baton charge on “our peaceful protest is proof of the government’s incompetency”.

Punjab Information and Culture Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan accused PML-N leader Hamza for “masterminding” the clashes outside the court, adding that “the PML-N is on its way towards the policy of collision”.

Allegations against Shahbaz

According to a NAB notice sent to the former Punjab chief minister on January 16, 2018, Shahbaz is accused of ordering the cancellation of award of contract of Ashiana-i-Iqbal to successful bidder Chaudhry Latif and Sons, and engineering the award of the contract to Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy group of Paragon City Private Limited, which resulted in the loss of approximately Rs193 million.

He is also accused of directing the Punjab Land Development Company to assign the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to the Lahore Development Authority, resulting in the award of contract to Lahore Casa Developers, causing a loss of Rs715m and the ultimate failure of the project.

NAB has also accused Shahbaz of directing the PLDC to award the consultancy services of the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to Engineering Consultancy Services Punjab for Rs 192m while the actual cost was supposed to be Rs35m as quoted by Nespak.

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