Shehbaz Sharif, others acquitted in Ashiana housing case

Lahore: An accountability court in Lahore on Saturday acquitted former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and others in the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme case.

AC judge Ali Zulqurnain announced the verdict and acquitted Shehbaz Sharif, senior bureaucrat Fawad Hasan Fawad, former director general of the Lahore Development Authority Ahad Khan Cheema and others in the case.

The verdict came after the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) declared that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, during his time as the chief minister of Punjab, did not obtain any benefit from the government funds or misused his public office in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case.

It also cleared other co-accused of any wrongdoing.

The corruption watchdog’s latest clean chit for the former prime minister came months after he, his family members and others were cleared in a money laundering case.

The Ashiana scandal first emerged in January 2018 when NAB accused Sharif, the then-opposition leader of misusing his authority to illegally issue directives for cancellation of the contract with regard to the housing project during his tenure as chief minister in 2014.

In March 2014, the former chief minister had visited the Ashiana-e-Iqbal project site and halted its bidding process, according to the reference.

The Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) was looking after the project, but Mr Sharif after visiting the site decided to assign the project to the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) which resulted in the award of the contract to the Lahore Casa Developers (JV), causing Rs715m loss to the exchequer, the reference reads.

The NAB had arrested Shehbaz Sharif in the scam on October 5, 2018, inside its Lahore office where he had appeared after being summoned for questioning in connection with a probe into the Saaf Pani Company scam.

According to NAB, “the contract for the housing scheme was won by a construction company titled Chaudhry Latif and Sons but former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif and his aides awarded the Rs 14 billion contract to Lahore Casa Developers – a proxy group of Paragon City (Pvt) Limited, which is said to be owned by then Railways Minister Saad Rafique”.

Senior bureaucrat Fawad Hasan Fawad, former director general of the Lahore Development Authority Ahad Khan Cheema and several others were arrested later that year.