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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday ordered the release of former religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi along with two other accused in the Haj corruption case.

The court of a special judge (central) on June 3, 2016, had awarded Mr Kazmi six years’ imprisonment along with a fine of Rs147.396 million.

The other two accused — former director general Haj Rao Shakeel and former joint secretary ministry of religious affairs Aftabul Islam Raja — were also awarded almost the same sentences. Accepting the appeals of the three, the IHC ordered their release from the Adiala Jail.

Mr Kazmi in his appeal filed with the IHC maintained that none of the prosecution witnesses had insinuated him with any malfeasance, adding his conviction was based on “fanciful, arbitrary, capricious and absolutely conjectural hypothesis.”

Appeals filed by two other accused against verdict of trial court were also accepted

The appellant said according to the prosecution’s own version, being a minister he had a supervisory role in making arrangements for the Haj pilgrims. He had nothing to do with the hiring of buildings and making payments of rents to the owners.

The petitioner said the conclusion of the trial court was based on suppositions and a consequence of misreading or non-reading of the facts.

The rent payment of the under-construction buildings was contingent upon completion and the rent amount was retrieved through checks and no embezzlement of funds had taken place.

The appeal contended that this was a case of no evidence, and the sentence by the trial court was a violation of Mr Kazmi’s fundamental rights.

“Not a single prosecution witness uttered any word against the petitioner regarding kickbacks or commission and there is no such evidence on record to prove this offence,” the petition said.

The role of hiring buildings for the pilgrims was to be performed by a seven-member committee and the petitioner had no role whatsoever.

The petitioner’s name was not in the FIR but he was implicated in the case due to political rivalry.

The trial court while convicting the petitioner seemed to be influenced by the media reports, the petitioner said.

Mr Kazmi’s counsel Sardar Latif Khosa argued before the court that the former minister had been punished for his supervisory role.

“This fits into a context that if a clerk of a prime minister commits a mistake you would punish the prime minister. My client was not involved in hiring buildings and there were no allegations against him regarding kickbacks. In fact, the Saudi government returned 6.65 million riyals to the pilgrims due to the efforts of my client.”

The prosecution, on the other hand, adopted before the court that Mr Kazmi had been on a visit to Saudi Arabia where he examined the arrangements.

The court of special judge (central) found him guilty on account of approving the under-construction buildings without washrooms and that too in connivance with his front man, Ahmed Faiz.

The FIA prosecutor also submitted Mr Kazmi’s photos with Ahmed Faiz in Saudi Arabia.

The prosecution told the court that Mr Kazmi caused a loss of over Rs1 billion to the public exchequer.

The Saudi government after knowing the situation itself returned Rs5,000 to each Pakistani pilgrims and Mr Kazmi had no role in it, the prosecutor said.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017