–LHC rejects NAB prosecutor’s request to deny bail to PML-N leader in illegal assets case
–Court takes exception to presence of large number of PML-N supporters in court’s premises, warns Hamza
LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday granted pre-arrest bail to Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shehbaz till April 17, and restrained the accountability watchdog from arresting him in cases pertaining to illegal assets.
The bail was granted on submission of surety bonds worth Rs10 million.
A National Accountability Bureau (NAB) team seeking Hamza’s arrest was embroiled in a nearly five-hour-long standoff with his private security and supporters at his family’s Model Town residence on Saturday. It was the second day in a row that the NAB had approached Hamza’s residence for his arrest. The stalemate ended once the LHC restrained the bureau from arresting the MPA and granted him protective bail until April 8.
Hamza was represented by Advocate Amjad Pervez before the two-judge bench. A team of the bureau’s legal experts were also in the courtroom.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers at the LHC chanted slogans in Hamza’s favour until they were warned by security that they would be expelled from the premises if they did not show respect for the court. They continued a silent show of support for their leader thereafter.
Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan, taking note of the large gathering, remarked: “So many people have been called here today. What is all this?”
Hamza replied that he had not called the PML-N workers.
“What will happen in the future if such sloganeering has already begun?” Justice Mirza Waqas Rauf asked.
The court asked NAB’s lawyer which case the bureau wanted to arrest the PML-N leader in, to which he replied that there are a total of three cases against Hamza and they wanted to arrest him in the case pertaining to assets beyond means.
The lawyer added that arrest warrants in the Ramzan Sugar Mills and the Saaf Pani Company cases had not yet been issued.
Advocate Azam Nazir Tarar, also representing Hamza, told the court that the PML-N leader had been granted bail by the LHC in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, and added that the high court had ordered that a 10-day notice be given prior to his arrest.
According to Tarar, the 10-day time period had been given so that they could secure bail from the appropriate forum.
He said that NAB had raided Hamza’s house without a warning, and added that the PML-N leader wanted to secure pre-arrest bail so that he can appear before NAB.
During the proceedings, NAB’s lawyer said that the Supreme Court had given a verdict which said the accountability bureau was not required to give a 10-day notice. He added that illegal transactions had taken place in Hamza’s accounts.
“The purpose of the arrest is to ensure that the record does not disappear,” he said, urging the court to reject Hamza’s bail request.
Justice Khan said that detailed arguments would be heard later, and added that the high court respected the SC order.
Hamza’s legal team, which also includes LHC Bar Association President Hafeezur Rehman Chaudhry, had filed a civil miscellaneous application in the LHC on Saturday while the NAB team paid a visit to the Shehbaz residence.
The team had argued that Hamza’s petition seeking interim pre-arrest bail had already been fixed for hearing before a two-judge bench. They said the court had, on Nov 20 last year, disposed of Hamza’s previous bail petition with direction to NAB to inform him in advance if it found any grounds for his arrest, so that he had sufficient time ─ at least 10 days ─ to approach a court of competent jurisdiction and seek bail.
They had argued that NAB, in violation of the order, was bent on arresting the petitioner without giving him the stipulated 10-day period and that his house had been cordoned off by NAB personnel.
They had asked the chief justice to grant protective bail to Hamza till April 8 to enable him to approach the division bench already seized with the matter.
LHC Chief Justice Sardar Shamim Ahmed had made it clear that the bail granting order would cease to have any effect after Monday and this would not prejudice the case of any party.