LAHORE: An accountability court in Lahore acquitted PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and co-accused individuals in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme reference on Saturday.
The acquittal included other co-accused such as caretaker Privatisation Minister Fawad Hasan Fawad, former director general of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) Ahad Khan Cheema, Imtiaz Haider, Bilal Kidwai, Shahid Mehmood, Munir Zia, Shahid Shafiq, Ali Sajjad Bhatta, and Mohammad Sadiq.
The Ashiana housing projects initiated by the Punjab government in 2010 were at the center of controversy. In 2018, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) alleged that Shehbaz Sharif had instructed the cancellation of a contract awarded to Chaudhry Latif and Sons, leading to the contract being reassigned to Lahore Casa Developers, an alleged proxy group of Paragon City Private Limited. This maneuver reportedly incurred a loss of Rs193 million.
Shehbaz Sharif was further accused of directing the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) to transfer the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to the LDA, which then awarded the contract to Lahore Casa Developers, resulting in a loss of Rs715 million and the project’s ultimate failure.
NAB’s allegations extended to Shehbaz Sharif instructing the PLDC to award the consultancy services contract for the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to Engineering Consultancy Services Punjab for Rs192 million, while Nespak, a renowned engineering consultancy, had quoted the actual cost as Rs35 million.
In 2018, Shehbaz Sharif, Fawad, Cheema, and several others were arrested, followed by their indictment in February 2019.
In May of the current year, NAB cleared the PML-N president of any involvement in the scandal. Subsequently, an accountability court in October acquitted Kamran Kiyani and Nadeem Zia of Paragon City in the reference.
Earlier this month, an accountability court reserved its verdict on the acquittal applications of Shehbaz, Cheema, and others accused in the case.
Today, the accountability court reviewed and accepted the acquittal pleas of the former prime minister and others.
After the acquittal, former information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb extended congratulations to the party leadership and workers for Shehbaz’s acquittal in what she described as a “false case for the sake of political vendetta.”