LAHORE: A Pakistani court on Tuesday granted Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz a one-time exemption from personal appearances at hearings in separate corruption cases.
Prime Minister Shehbaz was to appear before an accountability court in Lahore on Tuesday in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme corruption case in which he is facing misuse of authority and causing a loss of millions of rupees to the exchequer.
He requested the court through his counsel that he be granted an exemption as he was "preoccupied in Islamabad in connection with various official matters" and cannot appear before the court.
In a separate but similar application in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, Hamza stated that as the chief minister of Punjab, he was "preoccupied with various important matters of urgent nature and public welfare".
"It is for the reason of preoccupation in the discharge of constitutional obligations that [I] am unable to appear before this honourable court today," he said, according to a report in the Dawn newspaper.
The court accepted the applications of both leaders and adjourned the hearing till July 16.
Shehbaz has already been granted permanent exemption from appearing in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, in which he has been nominated as the primary suspect alongside Hamza.
Shehbaz's pre-arrest bail in the Rs 14 billion money laundering case of the Federal Investigation Agency has already been confirmed by a special court.
Ousted prime minister Imran Khan has expressed his surprise at how a suspect like Shehbaz, who is wanted in a multi-billion money laundering case, is given a "huge relief" by courts.
"This man (Shehbaz) should be sent to jail in a money laundering case instead of placing him on the chair of prime minister," Khan said at a rally recently.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed a case against Shehbaz and Hamza in 2019, alleging that they "fraudulently and dishonestly" caused a Rs 213 million loss to the national exchequer.
According to the NAB, when Shehbaz was the Punjab chief minister, he had issued a directive for the construction of a drain in Chiniot district primarily to benefit the sugar mills owned by his sons.
The anti-graft watchdog had claimed to have obtained "sufficient incriminating" material and evidence during the investigation, the report said.
In the Ashiana Housing Scheme case, Shehbaz had been charged with misuse of authority by unlawfully assuming powers of the board of directors of the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC), and awarding a contract to an ineligible proxy firm that resulted in the failure of the housing scheme.
The scam caused a loss to the public exchequer and deprived 61,000 applicants of houses, the report said.
It is also alleged that Shahbaz's directive to entrust the project of a housing scheme to the Lahore Development Authority from the PLDC and intervention in affairs of the company was in violation of the Companies Ordinance, Memorandum and Article of Association and Corporate Governance Rules 2013, it said.
NAB had alleged that the former chief minister through his unlawful acts and misuse of authority caused a loss of Rs 660 million to the exchequer and the overall project cost Rs 3.
Shehbaz was granted bail in both cases by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in February 2019, while Hamza was granted bail by the LHC in February 2020.
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