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ISLAMABAD: Former federal minister for religious affairs, Hamid Saeed Kazmi, was sentenced to 16 years in jail in the Haj corruption case on Friday.

Judge Malik Nazir Ahmad from special court central, a lower court, also sentenced Director General (DG) Haj Rao Shakeel to 40 years in prison. Joint secretary for religious affairs Aftab Aslam was also sentenced to 16 years.

Kazmi and Aftab were arrested from the court premises after the sentence was pronounced and escorted to Adiala Jail by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials. Shakeel is already in custody of the National Accountability Bureau in Lahore.

The verdict was announced Friday after cross-examination of 60 witnesses presented by the prosecution was concluded last week.

The sentenced have the right to appeal the decision in Islamabad High Court.

The investigation team was led by former FIA director and current Additional Inspector General Punjab Hussain Asghar. The final challan was filed in 2012 by Ghazanfar Abbas, an FIA investigation officer.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Haj corruption scandal rocked the national political scene and led to the departure of both Hamid Saeed Kazmi and Azam Swati from the federal cabinet.

The former also spent nearly two years in prison over charges of irregularities in the 2009 Haj operation.

The former religious affair minister was slapped with allegations of involvement in the Haj corruption scandal and inflicting huge losses to the national coffers two years ago. After which a case was registered leading to Kazmi’s arrest on March 15, 2011.

Kazmi was subsequently indicted on charges of corruption in the case on May 30, 2012, to which he pleaded not guilty.

According to the charge sheet issued to Kazmi, DG Haj Rao Shakeel and Raja Aftabul Islam, the men were indicted for fraud, cheating, misuse of authority, and causing losses to the national exchequer and the public at large.

Specifically, they were accused of hiring a substandard building on exorbitant rent (for housing the pilgrims in Makkah) and receiving kickbacks in the process.