LAHORE - In what appears to be a surprise move, three judges hearing cases against former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, son Hamza, niece Maryam Nawaz and MNA Rana Sanaullah Khan were transferred on Wednesday when cases were fairly at an advance stage.

The federal government repatriated these judges to the Lahore High Court after which the LHC sought names of new judges.

Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) court judge Masood Arshad stopped the hearing of Rana Sanaullah’s case which was in progress after learning that he had been repatriated back to the Lahore High Court (LHC).

However, Information Minister Firdaus Ashiq Awan said in a TV talk show that the judge had been transferred on Aug 26 and he had personally received the transfer orders. After the receipt of those orders, she argued, the judge was not authorized to resume the hearing of the case on Wednesday.

ANF judge held court two days after receiving transfer orders

Without saying in so many words the minister indicated that the judge had some personal motive behind resuming the hearing.

She said the law ministry had received some complaints about the conduct of the judge and the properties worth billions of rupees of Rana Sanaullah Khan. 

She said it was for this reason that the judge was repatriated to the LHC.

About PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal’s assertion that the judge had been transferred because he was about to give a decision in favour of Rana Sanaullah Khan, the information minister asked how did Mr Ahsan know about the judge’s likely verdict. 

The counsel for Rana Sanaullah, while talking to the media outside the court, said that this development was unprecedented. “It seems like the government is trying to decide which judge they want the verdict from,” he alleged.

He said that arguments had concluded in the case when the government decided to withdraw the judge through a notification.

PML-N Spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb also criticised the development and termed it as a direct attack on the freedom of judiciary.

“Those who had made the case up against Rana Sanaullah could not bring a single piece of evidence against him, so they did this instead,” she said.

According to reports, notification from the Ministry of Law and Justice, recalling three accountability judges Masood Arshad, judge Mushtaq Ilahi, and judge Muhammad Naeem Arshad had been issued on Aug 26.

Judge Naeem Arshad was the duty judge currently presiding over the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case against Maryam Nawaz and her cousin Yousuf Abbas; the Ramzan Sugar Mills case against Shehbaz Sharif; and money laundering cases against Hamza Shahbaz and Salman Shehbaz. He had been tasked with hearing these cases as the main judge was on summer holidays.

Judge Mushtaq Ilahi was not hearing any high-profile cases. He, however, was on the benches hearing a number of National Accountability Bureau cases.

No reason has been mentioned in the order.