–Accountability watchdog takes PML-N leaders Saad Rafique and Salman Rafique in custody in Paragon scam after LHC rejects bail plea
–NAB prosecutor says Qaisar Amin Butt has admitted during interrogation that Khawaja brothers are ‘real owners’ of Paragon Housing Society
–Fawad endorses, Zardari condemns Khawaja brothers’ arrest
LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday arrested Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders Khawaja Saad Rafique and his younger brother, Khawaja Salman Rafique after the Lahore High Court (LHC) dismissed their application seeking pre-arrest bail in the Paragon Housing Society case.
A division bench, comprising Justice Muhammad Tariq Abbasi and Justice Mirza Viqas Rauf, heard the case that pertains to Khawaja brothers’ alleged involvement in the housing society scam.
Last week, the LHC had extended the bail granted to Saad and Salman, directing the anti-graft body not to arrest them till the next hearing. Besides, it had also directed the bureau to submit the grounds for arrest and decide on the application of Khawaja brothers concerning change of investigation team.
During the hearing, NAB prosecutor Khaleequz Zaman said that grounds for arrest of both brothers had been submitted, whereas the NAB chairman had also disposed of the application by the Khawaja brothers for change of investigation team. After delivering his arguments before the bench, he said that the brothers’ request for bail should be rejected by the court.
As per NAB chief Javed Iqbal, no step would be taken without his permission, the prosecutor stated, adding that the chairman acts in accordance with the law.
At this, Azam Nazir Tarar, the defence counsel joined Amjad Pervaiz, submitted that the NAB had not provided grounds for the arrest to the petitioners, which was mandatory. He requested the bench for provision of the same and requested the bench to adjourn the matter.
However, the bench observed that the matter could not be adjourned any longer as the NAB chief had decided on the application, whereas the grounds for arrest had also been provided.
“It was not mandatory that the grounds for the arrest should be provided to the petitioners at this stage. The court had sought the grounds for its perusal,” the bench added.
The NAB prosecutor also submitted that the grounds for the arrest could only be provided to the accused at the time of arrest as per law.
Though, the court had expressed willingness to adjourn the matter till Dec 13, but observed that both defence counsel would be available to argue the matter on the day. However, later Pervaiz Amjad sought to present the final arguments on the request of Tarrar, which the court accepted.
Presenting the final arguments, Khawajas’ counsel Amjad submitted that NAB had accused the brothers of being benamidar owners of the housing society.
“It is also alleged that both brothers illegally exchanged land with the society besides receiving Rs 100 million from executive builders,” he said, adding NAB failed to prove allegations against them.
He said that both brothers did not have any link to the Paragon, adding that they were only running advertisement and marketing companies, and received Rs 100 million [from Executive Builders] as advertising fee in five years. He submitted that the amount was shown in petitioners’ tax returns as well.
To a court query, he submitted that the petitioners exchanged 50 kanals with the Paragon and also paid Rs 30 million on account of development charges. He pleaded with the court to grant pre-arrest bail to both brothers as they were being “victimised politically”.
However, NAB prosecutor pleaded the court to dismiss the bail petitions, saying that no political victimisation was being done as the inquiry was started during the tenure of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government.
He argued that NAB chairman authorised an inquiry against the brothers, who was a former judge and had no personal interests in the case.
The prosecutor said that Paragon CEO Qaisar Amin Butt had partnered with Saad Rafique’s wife in Paragon Housing and that the brothers were paid from the housing scheme. He further explained that Saad’s brother-in-law was among the partners of the scheme.
“The Khawaja brothers have admitted that they took millions of rupees as commission,” he said.
He further submitted that the accused failed to justify transaction of Rs100m. He questioned the services being provided by the Khawaja brothers and the persons who hired them for the purpose. “If money is earned through illegal means and still mention in tax returns, it doesn’t make it legitimate,” he added.
According to the prosecutor, Shahid Butt, an accused in the case, had informed NAB that the PML-N leader personally issued allotment letters to people. He submitted that owner of the Green Housing Society, Shahid Butt and Qaisar Amin Butt, had admitted that Khawaja brothers were “real owners” of the society.
To a court query, he argued that Salman Rafique gave nine kanals to Paragon society in exchange for 20 kanals, which was a “dubious matter”.
After hearing arguments of both parties, the bench dismissed pre-arrest bail petitions of both brothers, observing that no grounds were available for grant of pre-arrest bail in the case.
FAWAD ENDORSES, ZARDARI CONDEMNS ARRESTS:
Talking to the media in wake of the arrests, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said that the arrests conducted by NAB over allegations of corruption proved that the country was moving in the right direction.
The minister said that Khawaja Saad Rafique and Salman Rafique had been arrested after the cancellation of their bail. “We have nothing to do with these arrests and offloading of Hamza Shehbaz,” he said, adding that the cases in which PML-N leaders were arrested were not registered during the tenure of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government. He further said that those who had arrested the PML-N leaders were not appointed by the PTI dispensation.
Fawad said that the institutions were independent and were performing their duties without any interference. He said that the government did not have much information about the cases against Khawaja brothers, except that they had embezzled huge amount of money.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari, however, strongly condemned the arrests. Spokesman to the former president, Amir Fida Paracha, said that Zardari has said that arrest of the Khawaja brothers has exposed the brutalities of the government.
The former president said that the targeting of political opponents is attributed to dictators and PTI’s leadership is weakening its own government by victimising the opposition. This is proof enough that the governing party is compromising on the sovereignty of the parliament, he added.
Amir Fida Paracha said that PPP has always supported the completion of any democratic tenure as it strengthens the country, however, the attitude of the PTI leaders is threatening. Considering the fragile economic and political condition of the country, it is very important for the PTI government to focus on solving issues rather than multiplying them, he concluded.