Ex-Punjab CM accused of favoritism in multi-billion rupee housing project
OCT 6, 2018: The country’s premier anti-graft watchdog on Friday arrested former chief minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif who is the current National Assembly Opposition Leader, following startling revelations by his ex-secretary implementation Fawad Hassan Fawad in the Rs14 billion Ashiana Housing scam.
His arrest has caused a blow to PML-N — the party he heads, ahead of by-elections on October 14 in which the party has joined hands with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — another major opposition party –to challenge Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) led by PM Imran Khan.
PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah said “This is the first time since 1985 that an opposition leader has been arrested. And the arrest ahead of by-elections is a hint towards pre-poll rigging,” he added.
The former opposition leader said his party would come up with a strategy after consultations, adding that the PTI was engaged in revenge tactics.
Denying witch-hunt, the PTI-led government at the Center and in Punjab said it is following policy of zero-tolerance against corruption and that NAB is working independently without pressure and are free to even investigate its officials, ministers, etc. for any past or present wrongdoings.
The newly-elected Imran Khan’s government faces a major challenge in surmounting a massive financial crisis the country has gotten into “due to a decade of misgovernance, corruption, politically expedient initiatives and lack of vision” which have stacked up the national debt exponentially, several observers said.
Shehbaz appeared before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Lahore in Saaf Pani company case Friday, where Fawad, who had already been arrested in Ashiana Housing scandal, was already present.
According to reports, Shahbaz, who is also President of PML-N, was taken into custody following one-to-one conversation with his former principle secretary in the presence of NAB officials.
“Mian Sahib, I executed what you had directed me to do so,” Fawad reportedly told Shahbaz during their conversation at NAB Lahore office.
After an hour’s interrogation the investigators told Mr Sharif that NAB had enough evidence to take him into custody for further investigation into the case.
Fawad also served as secretary to former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and was regarded as the most powerful bureaucrat in the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in the Center and in Punjab, the country’s largest province and Sharif’s bastion of power.
He was arrested several months back by the NAB authorities over charges of misusing his authority as being the secretary implementation of Shahbaz Sharif and causing losses of billions to the national exchequer, including owning assets beyond known income and means.
Days earlier, an accountability court had sent Fawad to jail on judicial remand in the Ashiana Housing City scam for further investigation.
The government of Punjab led by Shahbaz Sharif had set up Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) to provide housing facilities to the public at subsidized rates. A project named Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Society was initiated in Lahore.
The project was supposed to be replicated in other cities after its success in Lahore.
Despite spending billions of rupees and a lapse of many years, the project could not be initiated. During the investigations, NAB found that the contract of the project was awarded to Casa Developers, a company that did not qualify for such a mega project in return for bribe.
The project remains incomplete despite lapse of several years after Casa Developers was allotted a Rs14 billion contract. Casa Developers is a joint venture of three companies, namely Bismillah Engineering Services, Sparco Group and China Group.
Bismillah Engineering Services is a subsidiary of Paragon City.
The payment to purchase the land was made from the account of Paragon Housing Society. During the investigation of another case, NAB found that a murky deal between Ashiana-e-iqbal and Paragon Housing Society had been made.
During the course of investigations, NAB said they had recovered cell phones, laptops, USBs etc from Fawad and Ahad Khan Cheema, the former Lahore Development Authority Director General (LDA DG). NAB found that Cheema misused his authority in the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing society scam and possessed assets beyond his known means of income.
During the forensic audit and analysis of the data NAB collected, they found startling evidence on the basis of which they had decided to expand the scope of their investigations including twice-elected Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Sharif.
The former LDA chief is in jail after serving a physical remand of 90 days with NAB. Under the NAB ordinance, an accused can be kept in custody for investigation for a maximum 90 days in a case. Cheema was reportedly the only accused to complete this term.
Cheema was arrested over corruption in the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Society scam and some startling revelations were made during investigations against him and the project.
The others being investigated include proprietor of Bismillah Engineering Company Shahid Shafiq, Israr Saeed, Arif Majeed as well as PLDC officials Imtiaz Haider and Bilal Qudwai.
Shahbaz will be presented before an accountability court on Saturday (today).
The PML-N has termed Shahbaz’s arrest ‘political victimization’.
PML-N said NAB had violated rules and arrested a sitting MNA without approval of the speaker of the assembly. However, NAB claimed that the speaker had been informed.
Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif said the arrest of Shahbaz — his younger brother, was regrettable and ridiculous.
Shahbaz Sharif’s son and opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz told a news conference that if this political victimization continued, the PML-N would be on roads to fight this war.