ISLAMABAD: An accountability court in Lahore on Monday granted the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) an extension in the physical remand of PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif in the Ashiana Housing Scheme case.
The court extended Sharif’s remand until Nov 7 while announcing its verdict on NAB’s request for a 15-day physical remand of the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.
This is the second extension given to NAB since Sharif was first remanded for 10 days on October 6. The court had earlier extended the remand by 14 days on Oct 16.
Sharif was produced before an accountability court in the morning for a hearing of the case amid tight security. NAB had requested the court to grant a 15-day physical remand of Sharif saying that the anti-corruption body had not yet completed its investigation.
NAB prosecutor Waris Ali Janjua, after submitting a report of the investigation so far, told the court that NAB has prepared a feasibility report that had strengthened its case. He claimed that the feasibility report prepared for the housing scheme by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) was based on “falsehood”. He said that the national exchequer had suffered a loss of millions of rupees due to Sharif’s “illegal steps”.
According to NAB’s report, Sharif had illegally ordered Sheikh Alauddin to complete the project through a public-private partnership. It further alleged that Sharif was not cooperating in the investigation “due to his authoritarian behaviour as well as his cleverness”.
It further claimed that NAB’s review of the feasibility report prepared by the LDA revealed that the value of the residential plots was estimated 40 per cent below market rates while commercial plots were estimated 100 per cent lower than the market value “thus giving an illegal benefit [to Paragon] of almost Rs9.649 billion”.
NAB prosecutor, in today’s hearing, further said that Sharif had illegally handed over Ashiana housing scheme’s contract to Bilal Qidwai, who was a consultant of the Punjab Land Development Company and a suspect in the corruption case. Janjua also claimed that the scheme was used to benefit Paragon Housing Society.
However, Sharif – who presented his arguments himself – rejected the allegations and stated that it had been 25 days [since his arrest], yet NAB had been unable to present any proof against him. He refuted all allegations against him and said that he had answered all of NAB’s queries several times.
“I feel sad that NAB has levelled false allegations against me,” he said. He also dismissed NAB’s claim that his order for a public-private partnership in the project was illegal and said that the meeting in which he had directed Sheikh Alauddin to start working on the scheme as soon as possible was on record.
In response to NAB’s claim that the feasibility report had wrongly estimated the project’s cost at Rs14 billion, Sharif said that the anti-corruption body should question LDA instead of him.
After Sharif concluded his arguments, his lawyer Amjad Pervez claimed that the case against his client was based on an “assumptions” and added that the report prepared by NAB did not mention that Sharif was involved in corruption.
He told the court that NAB had not allowed his client to meet his newborn grandson, neither has the body allowed him to get a diabetes test.
Strict security measures were taken prior to Sharif’s arrival in court. Containers were placed to block the road leading to the building and all routes to the court were blocked as well. Police contingents were deployed along the route and outside the court building. Police and Rangers officials were also posted inside the court building.
PML-N supporters, lawyers – apart from legal counsel of Sharif and NAB – and media personnel were refused entry in the courtroom, which led to verbal confrontation between lawyers, party workers and police.
Shahbaz Sharif is primarily accused of directing the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) to assign the Ashiana project to the LDA, resulting in the award of contract to Lahore Casa Developers , causing a loss of Rs715 million and eventual failure of the project.
The former chief minister had also directed the PLDC to award consultancy services of the project to M/s Engineering Consultancy Services, Punjab, for Rs192 million, whereas the actual cost was Rs35m, as quoted by Nespak.
Fawad Hasan Fawad, a former principal secretary to the prime minister, and Ahad Khan Cheema, LDA’s ex-director general, have already been arrested in the Ashiana case and are in jail on judicial custody.
The bureau has recently launched another investigation against Shahbaz Sharif to look for his “illegal” assets. NAB initiated this inquiry on reports that Shahbaz possesses assets beyond his known sources of income.
During interrogation earlier, Shahbaz Sharif said his son Salman looked after the family business.