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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Shehbaz Sharif Acquitted in Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme Case, NAB Cites Lack of Evidence

An accountability court in Lahore cleared former PML-N president and ex-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, along with others, in the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme case.

An accountability court in Lahore has acquitted former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and 10 others in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case. The verdict, announced by Judge Ali Zulqurnain, comes after the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) declared that Shehbaz Sharif, during his tenure as the Chief Minister of Punjab, did not obtain any benefit from government funds or misuse his public office in the housing scheme.

The court’s decision followed the withdrawal of statements by all prosecution witnesses and approvers, highlighting the absence of the possibility of conviction in the reference. The acquitted individuals include federal ministers Ahad Cheema and Fawad Hassan Fawad.

The Ashiana scandal surfaced in January 2018 when NAB accused Shehbaz Sharif of misusing his authority to cancel the contract for the housing project during his term as Chief Minister in 2014.

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The reference alleged that the contract, initially awarded to Chaudhry Latif and Sons, was redirected to Lahore Casa Developers—a proxy group of Paragon City (Pvt) Limited, reportedly owned by then Railways Minister Saad Rafique. The decision caused a Rs715 million loss to the exchequer. The NAB’s clean chit to Shehbaz Sharif came months after his clearance in a money laundering case, reinforcing the lack of evidence in the Ashiana case.

In May, NAB filed a report stating it found no evidence of financial corruption or misuse of authority by Shehbaz Sharif. The report, citing the National Accountability Ordinance of 1999, emphasized that the allegations against the former Prime Minister were not substantiated.

The court, in its verdict, echoed NAB’s findings, stating that corruption charges could not be proved, leading to the acquittal of all accused. The Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case marked a significant legal development, with Shehbaz Sharif and others being released on bail after their arrests in 2018.