No more extension in Nawaz Sharif bail

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The Punjab Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Muhammad Basharat Raja, said the Punjab cabinet had decided not to give further extension in the bail granted to former prime minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on medical grounds. Nawaz Sharif is in London for medical treatment.

Addressing a press conference in Lahore along with other members of the provincial cabinet, including Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid and Information Minister Fayyaz ul Hassan Chohan on Tuesday, Basharat said the provincial cabinet, on the recommendations of a committee, formed to examine the health situation and medical reports of Nawaz Sharif, had decided that Nawaz’s bail could not be extended further, as he could not provide any latest medical reports. He said Nawaz Sharif was granted bail for eight weeks by the Islamabad High Court on October 29, 2019, but a further eight weeks had passed since then as discussions were underway, adding that the bail was to be automatically extended till a decision by the Punjab government so it was extended for 16 weeks.

Basharat said after passage of 16 weeks, the provincial government wanted to be informed about developments regarding Nawaz’s health on the basis of which a decision regarding his bail was to be made. He said the IHC had directed Nawaz Sharif to seek the Punjab government’s permission for further relief if required, adding that Nawaz was not admitted to any hospital in London. Nothing specific was shared with the government regarding Nawaz Sharif’s health, he added. He said the Punjab cabinet had made the decision, as there was no legal, moral or medical basis without any concrete proof for further extension of his bail. He said the provincial government will move the court to declare Nawaz Sharif an absconder adding that the Punjab cabinet’s decision will be shared with the federal government.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan Tuesday said Nawaz Sharif would be declared an absconder if he didn’t return to Pakistan.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, she said Nawaz Sharif was given relief by the government on humanitarian grounds and allowed to go to London for medical treatment, but he was found there in restaurants. Dr Firdous asked the PML-N leadership to submit authentic medical reports of Nawaz Sharif rather than sending medical certificates of private laboratories. “There is much difference in a medical report and a medical certificate. They should tell the nation about the actual health condition of Nawaz Sharif and give access to the media to the hospital in the United Kingdom where he is under treatment,” she added. She said the PML-N leaders should now stop misleading the innocent people about the health of Nawaz Sharif as despite several reminders they had failed to submit his medical reports, which were compulsory for further such relief.

Dr Firdous also asked Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif to get back from the UK. She asked Rana Sanaullah to brief the people about Nawaz Sharif’s fresh surgery and also the name of the hospital where he was admitted for any such surgery.

Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Tuesday granted post-arrest bails to the PML-N leaders Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal in the LNG import and Narowal Sports City project cases respectively. The court accepted the bails of Abbasi and Ahsan against surety bonds of Rs10 million each. A division bench of Islamabad High Court, headed by Chief Justice Athar Minallah, conducted the hearing.

Additional Prosecutor General NAB argued that Abbasi had misused powers in the LNG terminal construction project and the petroleum ministry did not even bother to involve the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) in the entire process of LNG import agreement. Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked how the NAB had constituted the case if no public funds were used adding that there was no allegation of paying fees from the national exchequer. “What would the NAB say about the company to which the USAID paid fees?” he inquired. The prosecutor replied that documents about hiring the company services had not been found so far. The court asked if the advisory firm was also paid fees by the USAID. “Who hired the advisory firm?” he further asked. The investigation officer said a notification in this regard was yet to be found. The chief justice said if the USAID had been paying fees to the firm, then the same would be the hiring organization.

The bench noted that the NAB had mentioned two grounds for the arrest of the accused but the same were ineffective. The NAB prosecutor alleged that the former prime minister had bought LNG at an exorbitant price from a foreign country. To this, the chief justice asked whether the NAB had conducted an investigation into the availability of LNG across the world against rates cheaper than those agreed to by Pakistan. After hearing the arguments, the court granted bail to Shahid Khaqan Abbasi against a surety bond of Rs10 million.

On the bail petition of Ahsan Iqbal in the Narowal Sports City project, the court noted that there were no charges of criminal intent and taking financial benefits. The court asked NAB how a public representative could flee abroad, adding that the name of the accused could be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL). Justice Athar noted that the NAB adopted the stance that a corruption case could be initiated against anyone for any irregularity. He remarked that if it was so, then the whole governance system would stall. He said an error could occur even with a good intention.

Justice Minallah said the freedom of an accused couldn’t be seized even in terrorism cases internationally. He remarked that Britain imposed 12 conditions on a suspect but didn’t deprive him of his freedom. “The NAB investigation officer could also have imposed conditions on the accused,” he added.

Justice Minallah observed that arresting an accused for just investigation showed the inefficiency of the investigation officer (IO). The IO said the cases were pending against the accused and they would be considered innocent until proven guilty. To a question by the bench, he said if the accused were public representatives, then they couldn’t be denied their rights. He, however, said the NAB could arrest anyone for investigation and inquiry.

Justice Minallah asked whether the accused could be arrested for any other reason other than investigation. The investigating officer said the suspect could also be arrested to avert his escape abroad and record tampering. The bench asked the NAB official to prove how the department couldn’t conclude its investigation without arresting the accused. Ahsan Iqbal’s lawyer alleged that there had been pressure on the accused for a plea bargain. To this, the chief justice said the plea bargain was an international practice. Justice Minallah asked the NAB officials how many accused had been nominated in the case and if all had been arrested. “The NAB is just an investigation body which prosecuted the accused in courts after collecting evidence against them,” he remarked.

NAB Prosecutor Jahanzeb Bharwana said his department was authorized to arrest the accused following a complaint. The chief justice asked if the NAB was authorized to hold anyone before the inquiry, adding that criminal cases couldn’t be linked with corruption cases.

Justice Athar Minallah asked the NAB to respond to three questions of the bench: 1) why Ahsan Iqbal and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi were arrested; 2) why both accused were kept in jail even after the conclusion of the investigation; 3) how two persons could be deprived of their right to represent their voters.

The court granted bail to Ahsan Iqbal against a surety bond of Rs10 million. Soon after the bails granted to the two PML-N leaders, the National Accountability Bureau decided to appeal the Supreme Court against bails granted by the IHC. The decision was taken in a meeting at the NAB Headquarters presided by Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal.

Deputy Chairman NAB, PGA, DG Operations, DG Rawalpindi and other senior officers attended the meeting.