A team from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Saturday returned to the Shahbaz family’s 96-H Model Town residence in Lahore to arrest Punjab Assembly Opposition Leader Hamza Shafhbaz.
Following a nearly five-hour standoff outside the house, the NAB team returned around 4pm after the Lahore High Court (LHC) issued a short order, granting interim bail to Hamza until April 8. According to the high court’s written order, ad interim protective bail has been granted to Hamza “in order to enable the petitioner to approach” the concerned bench for the hearing of a bail plea that was filed on April 4.
Advocate Amjad Pervez had appeared before the high court on Hamza’s behalf. He argued that Hamza has filed a request for interim bail and if he is taken under custody, he will lose his constitutional right to appear before the court in order to secure bail.
LHC Chief Justice Sardar Shamim Ahmed summoned the record of the appeal filed for interim bail and barred NAB from arresting Hamza meanwhile.
After the NAB team left Model Town, Hamza appeared before emotional supporters and said that “the LHC had said that Hamza has been cooperating with the anti-graft watchdog and there was no need for arresting him.”
He thanked his supporters for standing before NAB’s team like an “impenetrable wall” as if they were protecting their own house, adding that “these are not PML-N workers, they are my family.”
The PML-N lawmaker then pointed his guns towards the government and said that the prime minister should “stop lying and acting out of jealousy and bias”.
“Pakistan’s economy is drowning, we don’t have money for debt servicing. I ask them (government) to draw a road map to fix the economy and provide relief to the poor. People are tired of hearing [about] ‘thieves’,” Hamza said.
The development came just a day after NAB conducted a failed ‘raid’ at the same address to arrest Hamza on charges of money laundering and possessing assets beyond means.
NAB officials had earlier said that they would not enter the house and that the PML-N leader should turn himself in. However, the accountability watchdog had also petitioned an accountability court seeking permission to enter the house to arrest Hamza.
“We mean to arrest Hamza Shahbaz by all means today,” the NAB deputy director leading the team had told the media.
After the accountability court issued its decision on the matter, PML-N counsel Atta Tarar, while commenting on the order, stated that the court had “dismissed” NAB’s petition and refused to give NAB and police permission to raid the house to arrest Hamza. He said the arresting party should, therefore, turn back.
However, while the accountability court had, in fact, dismissed the petition, it had made clear that it was only doing so because NAB already had all authority it needed to execute its arrest warrant in line with Chapter V of the Code of Criminal Procedures.
The court said that “no specific direction is required to be issued to execute the duly issued warrant of arrest if same is not suspended by the competent authority”.
Marriyum accuses PM of ‘passing directions’ to NAB
Speaking to the media after the LHC stopped NAB from arresting Hamza, PML-N spokesperson Mariyum Aurangzeb thanked God for the decision and said that PML-N’s lawyers had gone to court to “challenge the prime minister’s steps [to spread] state terrorism”.
She accused NAB of displaying “hooliganism” and said that PML-N workers, who had gathered near the PML-N leader’s house, were beaten up.
“This is state terrorism,” she declared and added that the “inefficient and incapable” government was pulling a “media stunt” to mislead the people.
“NAB had conducted an illegal raid on the directions of the prime minister,” she claimed.”Despite a discussion yesterday, NAB’s team, after conspiring with the government, returned today.”
Aurangzeb said that NAB had gone to courtroom number five today and submitted an application for Hamza’s arrest. However, this application was rejected by a NAB court, she claimed, further claiming that the bureau was informed that an LHC order exists in this regard.
She further said that Shahzad Akbar, the prime minister’s aide, remained in contact with the director general of NAB’s Lahore chapter and “passed on” the premier’s instructions to the anti-graft watchdog. She demanded that a “forensic test” of Akbar’s phone should be conducted.
Information minister criticises Hamza for ‘resisting’ arrest
While addressing a press conference earlier, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry regretted that Hamza had “locked himself in the basement” and “is using women and children as shields”.
Referring to the standoff in Model Town and drawing parallels with the 2014 Model Town tragedy, he said the nature of operations conducted by Punjab police in the PML-N’s tenure were now “in front of everyone to see”.
“Politics is being used as a shield to hide their corruption,” Chaudhry alleged. “On one hand, they say they do not mind accountability, but when they are being held accountable they are in hiding.”
The information minister noted that Hamza’s cousins, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz, the two sons of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had also said they would give evidence in court regarding the cases against them.
“Now they are saying they are UK citizens and Pakistan’s laws do not apply to them,” he said.
“I think once he [Hamza] steps out, he will say he is a Cuban citizen [and] that he was given the citizenship by Che Guevara himself, [because] he was a revolutionary at the time.”
Chaudhry said that the matter of Hamza’s arrest was between the PML-N leader and NAB. However, the minister said that, ideally, Hamza should turn himself in.
He said NAB could use force to enter the Shahbaz family house and arrest him but right now, PML-N workers were displaying aggressive behaviour against the accountability bureau.
“If NAB enters his house, the media will show that [in a negative light] and this is what I have been telling you – we are not like the previous government,” the minister said.
“Right now, we need to differentiate between politics and crime,” Chaudhry said adding: “It is very important for Pakistan that we do not allow crime to be shielded by politics. If our media and opinion makers do not draw a line between politics and crime, it would ultimately damage Pakistan.”
Acting within the law: NAB
In an official statement released by NAB, the bureau had said that the measures being taken to arrest Hamza Shahbaz were within the bounds of law.
“Hamza Shahbaz is hereby informed that he should not take the law in his own hands and to surrender to the national institution,” the NAB release had said.
According to NAB, the arrest warrants for Hamza Shahbaz were “legal and actionable”.
“PML-N workers are tensening [sic] the environment on the party leadership’s orders,” the release said.
A police contingent and anti-riot force had been deployed to manage the situation. According to DawnNewsTV, police had blocked all the roads leading to Hamza’s residence. A team of Rangers personnel had also arrived in Model Town.
Dozens of PML-N workers were also seen trying to get through barriers placed by police in order to reach Hamza’s house and clashing with police in the process.
DawnNewsTV reported that one worker fainted during the clashes and had been shifted to a hospital.
Punjab Chief Minister’s Spokesman Dr Shahbaz Gill, while speaking to DawnNewsTV, distanced his government from the raid, saying this was “an independent operation” undertaken by NAB.
He added that, personally, he believed that Hamza should have surrendered yesterday.
Gill said police had been given authority to use force while staying within the ambit of the law.
He said that no law would be violated, adding that the government did not believe in political victimisation.
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb while speaking to media said that “state terrorism” was taking place on behalf of the prime minister.
She said that an LHC order states that NAB has to give a ten-day notice for the arrest of Hamza. She added that NAB has gone to the Supreme Court against this order. However, the SC has not yet given any decision on this nor had they set aside the LHC order.
Additionally, Aurangzeb said that the order that NAB was interpreting, as per their motive, regarding sufficient evidence was with regards to a different order.
PML-N leader Muhammad Zubair, while speaking to DawnNewsTV, said that when the NAB team had arrived yesterday, Hamza had told them that a Lahore High Court order “clearly stated” that if NAB were to arrest Hamza “they would notify him ten days prior to arrest”.
Zubair said that if NAB believes they have legal grounds to execute the arrest despite the court’s order, they should have gone to the high court yesterday and clarified it.
He said the situation could have been easily resolved if this was done and a confrontation would not have taken place today.
NAB had on Friday raided the residence to arrest Hamza on charges of money laundering and income beyond means, but returned after facing resistance from his security guards and party workers.
The situation worsened with each side blaming the other for harassment. NAB filed an application with police to register an FIR against Hamza’s guards for interference in the state’s functions and requested the interior ministry to put his name on the no-fly list, while the latter also approached police to register a report against the raiding team of NAB.
NAB in a press release issued after the incident had said that its Lahore team, armed with arrest warrants for Hamza, had raided the residence to take him into custody in the assets beyond means case and a money laundering case.
The press release noted that the Supreme Court has made it very clear that NAB did not need to inform suspects prior to their arrest.
However, while addressing a press conference following the incident, Hamza showed a document that he described as a high court order. “I have a court order saying that I will be informed 10 days prior to arrest,” he had said, adding that the court told him he would be given an opportunity to make a case for obtaining bail as well.
The NAB press release alleged that Hamza’s guards had beaten members of the NAB team, tore their clothes, and threatened their lives.
The NAB statement added: “Therefore, there has been a clear violation of the law by Hamza Shahbaz.”
“Those who interfere in NAB’s legal action and the operations of the state will be proceeded against as per the law,” the statement added.
The PML-N was quick to denounce NAB’s version as “a complete lie, contrary to reality and an effort to hide its [NAB’s] own sins” in a statement released by the party’s media cell. PML-N had strongly condemned NAB’s “illegal and immoral step”.
The statement further said that the party was in contact with legal experts and would decide its future strategy in light of the latter’s advice.