ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court on Thursday disposed of bail applications of Sindh former information minister Sharjeel Inam Memon and other accused in the Rs5.7 billion scam involving awarding a contract to advertising agencies in violation of rules.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa disposed of the bail applications after the counsel for the accused withdrew their pleas.

The top court, however, ruled that the accused may approach the high court for bail on the basis of fresh grounds.

During the hearing, the bench asked the counsels whether they were ready to take the risk, if the top court decides the bail applications on merit, it may have adverse consequences for their clients in the trial court.

On this, Sardar Latif Khosa representing Memon, Iftikhar Gillani representing former secretary information Zulfiqar Shallwani agreed to withdraw the petitions. 

Advocate Faisal Siddiqui, representing advertising agencies’ owners including Gulzar Ali, Salman Mansoor and Umer Shahzad withdrew the application on behalf of one Gulzar Ali.

Justice Khosa observed that the bench did not want to discuss merit in deciding bail matters and the accused will not have the opportunity of relief from any other forum if the top court declared that “reasonable grounds are available” to dismiss bail applications.

The top court said that if the top court observed in the order that enough record is available which, ‘prima facie’, exhibits the misappropriation, then the accused will not be able to get relief till the pendency of reference.

“I am wondering how to deal with it,” Justice Khosa said while indicating not to go on merit when advocate Siddiqui argued for the third consecutive day.

He observed that “if the bench attends all the arguments in the judgment, then nothing will be left for the trial”.

The judge further observed that the advertisement agency, Evernew Concepts Pvt Ltd, sought approval from the information minister (Memon) without any departmental procedure and the advertisement campaign started from the next day while Memon became suspicious as he remained absconder.

Justice Khosa observed that the bench decides other criminal appeals in minutes while these applications of bails were being heard for the last three days adding that he, in one of his judgments, has declared that the order on bail application must not exceed one-and-half-page.

Advocate Siddiqui told the bench that the companies in fact fixed rates for the Sindh government less than the rates charged from private clients.

National Accountability Bureau counsel Nasir Mehmood Mughal said that the companies had been in contact with Memon before their pre-qualification adding that Evernew Concepts Pvt Ltd Company had written a letter directly to the minister and the plan was approved in October 2013 while the same company was pre-qualified in 2014.

The NAB counsel further said that per minute cost for the advertisement on FM radio was Rs400 but FM88 radio channel charged from Rs8,500 to Rs12,500 per minute during the Sindh festival. He said that there was a personal interest of the minister with the advertisement companies.