LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has told the honourable Lahore High Court (LHC) that Pakistan’s Leader of the Opposition Mian Shehbaz Sharif was not alleged to have taken any kickback nor was he alleged to have earned any ill-gotten money in return for a favour extended to someone to build up assets in the name of his family.
In a startling U Turn from claims made by government officials and ministers including Barrister Shehzad Akbar and Fawad Chaudhry, the NAB held that Mian Shehbaz Sharif had not received any kickback whatsoever.
The statement by the NAB is in complete contrast to hundreds of press conferences and interviews done by Shahzad Akbar and others PTI ministers on Pakistani TV over the last two years in which government ministers quoted NAB and declared Shahbaz Sharif as being involved in crimes of financial nature.
The court also held that it could not consider the prosecution’s case as the “Gospel truth”.
Lahore High Court’s chief justice had formed a three-member full bench which included Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, Justice Aalia Neelum and Justice Syed Shahbaz Ali Rizvi in order to make a decision regarding the bail of Mian Shehbaz Sharif.
Justice Sardar Muhammad Sarfraz Dogar, who is heading the division bench allowed the bail, while Justice Asjad Javed Ghural dismissed it.
Page 22 of the Judgement of the Lahore High Court reads: “Interestingly, the NAB has categorically admitted before us that petitioner is not alleged to have received any kickbacks or any such ill-gotten money in return to a favour extended to someone to build up the assets in the name of his family.
“These detailed explanations were to be provided by the co-accused persons; i.e. the sons, the daughters and the wives of the petitioner but W.P. No. 20793 of 2021 23 since we are dealing with the case of the petitioner perhaps this does not appear to be his sole responsibility.”
To build its case, NAB had alleged that specific amounts that were given as party funds to the PML-N were utilised for the personal benefit of Mian Shehbaz Sharif, however, the court held that if there had been a dispute of this kind, the case would’ve gone to the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Criticising the prosecution’s attempt to build a solid case, the judgements says: “The prosecution case is that this property was built up from the said amounts of FTTs sent to the wife by the petitioner. However, the answer to the questions; i.e. during which time this amount was sent for the property purchased are missing which are needed to connect the petitioner to make a good prosecution case to withhold the concession of bail.
“Besides, the NAB has also alleged that certain amounts were given in the party funds by the party political supporters which were utilized for the personal benefit of the petitioner. Had it been the case, it would have become a dispute, at the most, between two individuals or a matter to be considered by the Election Commission of Pakistan for collecting party funds from certain undesirable persons by suggesting a money trail.”
The court further held that the prosecution made no attempts to dig out the source of income of Mian Shehbaz Sharif.
NAB had claimed that Mian Shehbaz Sharif had assets worth 269 million PKR in his own name but the court held that “No investigation was conducted to dig out the source of income of the petitioner.”
The honourable court termed NAB’s case against Mian Shehbaz Sharif “a half hearted attempt” that would not absolve them from their responsibility to prove the case against the petitioner as the presumption of innocence always lies in favour of the accused person and the onus shifts only after initial discharge of burden by the prosecution as held in Asfand Yar Wali’s case.
NAB had also claimed that several of “Benamidaars” of Shehbaz Sharif had exponentially grown their assets, including Mian Shehbaz Sharif’s sons, Hamza Shehbaz and Suleman Shehbaz, however, the court held that: “To establish a Benamidar, it must be shown that person is financially dependent upon his family members for his maintenance support and that he is the ostensible owner of the properties in the ownership of his family members”.
The Lahore High Court held that living together in the same house does not constitute dependency which is an essential element to establish a Benamidar.
“In the absence of any property purchased or owned in the personal name of the petitioner and in the absence of direct proof that his family members were his dependents or vice versa and in the absence of direct proof that the money came through FTTs in his account as some crime proceed or money laundering, we cannot accept the prosecution case as a gospel truth,” the judgement reads.
Interestingly, none of the 110 prosecution witnesses ever stated that any money was sent or received by Mian Shehbaz Sharif for his own benefit.
Page 13 of the judgement says: “Submit that no tangible evidence is available against the petitioner as none of the PWs has ever stated that the money was sent or received by the petitioner directly for his own benefit. “
The court further held that Mian Shehbaz Sharif has declared his assets in the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) at the relevant time, therefore, he cannot be asked to disclose other sources before the NAB.
Previous precedents of cases including PLD 2020 Lah. 205 titled “Maryam Nawaz Sharif versus Chairman, NAB and 2 others”, PLD 2020 Sindh 365(372) titled “Agha Massihuddin Khan Durrani and others versus Chairman, National Accountability Bureau, Islamabad and others”, PLD 2021 SC 1 titled “ Justice Qazi Faez Isa versus The President of Pakistan and others” were relied on by the honourable court in this judgement pertaining to the post-arrest bail of Mian Shehbaz Sharif.
The 3 member bench also cited the case of Abdul Aleem Khan in 2019 where bail was granted by the LHC on the ground that the properties were declared in the income tax returns like they have been in Mian Shehbaz’s Sharif’s case.
NAB had argued in the court that 96-H Model Town, a 10 Kanal property which was owned by Mrs Nusrat Shehbaz Sharif and bought for an amount of 128.776 million was bought after 2005 through a Fictitious Telegraphic Transfer (FTT). This was also the property which Shehbaz Sharif used as his camp office while he was Chief Minister Punjab between 2010 and 2018. However, the prosecution failed to establish the time in which the amounts were sent to purchase the property.
In a shocking revelation, the court stated that absolutely no investigation had been conducted by NAB to dig out the source of income of Mian Shehbaz Sharif, despite the fact that they had made magnanimous claims regarding the corruption of Mian Shehbaz Sharif and his family.
Shehbaz Sharif’s lawyers also briefed the court about Mian Shehbaz Sharif’s medical condition, in paragrah “t” of the ground for bail application.
The court was told that Mian Shehbaz Sharif is 70 years old and has prolapsed disc at L4-5 level with Retrolisthesis, is a cancer survivor and is a known case of Adenocarcinoid Tumor of Appendix and status post right hemicolectomy since January 2003 when he underwent surgery.
His yearly follow up CT with Ardenal Gland, cancer marker Chromogranin A and B level are conducted to examine the possibility of recurrence of cancer which was delayed because of his confinement in jail.
Whilst granting Shehbaz Sharif post-arrest bail, the High Court held that it could not keep its eyes closed to the principles for the grant of post-arrest bail which is whether the case of the petitioner calls for further inquiry into his guilt.
“In the absence of any property purchased or owned in the personal name of the petitioner and in the absence of direct proof that his family members were his dependents or vice versa and in the absence of direct proof that the money came through FTTs in his account as some crime proceeds or money laundering, we cannot accept the prosecution case as a gospel truth.”
The court had also granted a one-time permission to Mian Shehbaz Sharif to fly abroad for medical treatment, however, FIA officials did not allow him to travel to the United Kingdom from Lahore Airport, disregarding the court order.
Commenting on the development, Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told The Pakistan Daily, “Have the (PTI) Ministers read the law? Can a country function if court orders are not implemented?”.