The accountability court has granted Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif a permanent exemption from appearing in the sugar scam case. On Monday, a Lahore accountability court granted Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif request for permanent exemption from appearing at hearings in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case.
In 2019, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed a reference against Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz Sharif, alleging they “fraudulently and dishonestly” caused a Rs213 million loss to the national exchequer. According to the NAB, when Shehbaz Sharif was the Punjab chief minister, he directed the construction of a drain in Chiniot district, primarily to benefit his sons’ sugar mills.
During the investigation, the anti-corruption watchdog claimed to have obtained “sufficient incriminating” material and evidence. Shehbaz was arrested in connection with the case by the NAB in 2019, but was later granted bail by the Lahore High Court (LHC).
Judge Sajid Awan granted Hamza’s request for a one-time exemption from the proceedings at the start of the hearing today. Amjad Pervez, Shehbaz’s counsel, informed the judge that the accountability court had already granted the premier permanent immunity from attending hearings in another case, claiming that his client had “never misused” it.
He requested permanent exemption in the current case as well as the appointment of a pleader for Shehabz. “By God’s grace, Shehbaz Sharif is now Prime Minister. He has obligations to fulfil. He has regularly appeared in court.” Asad Malik, NAB’s counsel, objected to the application, claiming that no medical certificates or other required documents had been attached.
He claimed that there had been no progress in the case for the previous six months, and that if the court granted the application, it would jeopardise the trial. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz told the court that he had never missed a hearing without a legitimate reason.
“God has entrusted me with enormous responsibility.” I attend important meetings, such as those with the IMF (International Monetary Fund), Gwadar, and the annual budget. I would never have applied for [permanent] exemption, but now I am fulfilling a national responsibility.”
He assured the court that he would appear whenever it summoned him. “I caught the last flight from the UK to come to Pakistan and appear in court [in May],” he said, referring to the Rs16 billion money laundering case filed against him by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
“The Ramzan Sugar Mills are not my property. The drain request was submitted by the local MPA. Would I not have approved it for my children 20 years ago if I had wanted to?” Shehbaz explained. He went on to say that the scheme had been approved by the provincial cabinet. The premier recalled that the sugar mill owners had asked the high court to order him to lower sugarcane prices, but he had refused.
“All of my actions benefited the people of the province,” Shehbaz claimed. “The then-chief secretary wrote to me, saying that sugar production was adequate and that any surplus should be distributed to other provinces. I turned down the request to export sugar.”
The premier stated that his son had established an ethanol mill, but that he had imposed an excise duty on it. He claimed that the sugar mill owners had appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, and that he had fought the case through the then-advocate general.
“My decisions cost my family Rs2.5 billion. The excise duty was abolished by the PTI government.” The judge, on the other hand, noted that Shehbaz’s statements were becoming more political, while the court needed to stay within the bounds of the law. As a result, the judge granted the exemption request and adjourned the case until July 5.