LHC suspends Hanif Abbasi’s life sentence, frees him on bail


–Bench says it will continue to hear arguments on different applications filed in ephedrine case on March 28


LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday suspended the life sentence handed to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Hanif Abbasi in 2018 in the ephedrine quota case, ordering his release on bail.

A two-member bench, headed by Justice Alia Neelum, after hearing detailed arguments from both sides accepted Abbasi’s plea to suspend the sentence. The court, however, declared that it would continue to hear the case.

The bench expressed displeasure over the counsel’s failure to submit his response.

“No excuse will be heard on the next hearing,” the bench cautioned and ruled that it would hear arguments on different applications filed in the case on March 28.

The appellant’s lawyer contended that Abbasi was suffering from four different diseases, adding that he also suffered a cardiac arrest inside the jail. He argued that seven other accused named in the case had been freed by the trial court while his client was awarded life term.

The lawyer pleaded to the high court to suspend his client’s sentence and order his release on bail.

The ephedrine case surfaced in March 2011 when then federal minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin told the National Assembly that the government will investigate the alleged allocation of a quota for the production of 9,000kg of ephedrine to two pharmaceutical companies — Berlex Lab International and Danas Pharmaceutical Limited.

According to the rules, a company cannot be allocated a production quota of more than 500kg of the drug, a limit fixed by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

The Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) had eventually registered a case in June 2012 against nine suspects, including Abbasi.

He was found guilty of selling 500kg of ephedrine to narcotics smugglers. He had obtained the controlled chemical for his company, Gray Pharmaceutical, in 2010. However, instead of using it for medicinal purposes, Abbasi sold it on to narcotics smugglers.

A fine of Rs1 million was imposed on the PML-N leader along with the life sentence. Seven others accused were acquitted in the case. The CNS Court of Rawalpindi had sentenced Hanif Abbasi to life in prison just before the July 25 general elections.

Subsequently, the PML-N leader had filed an appeal against his conviction before the LHC Rawalpindi bench, which was taken up on Aug 16.

Later, two judges of the LHC’s Rawalpindi Bench had recused themselves from hearing the PML-N leader’s appeal in the ephedrine case. The case was eventually shifted to the LHC’s Lahore bench.