LAHORE: A day after PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif pitched Raja Qamarul Islam against Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in NA-59 (Rawalpindi), the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Lahore on Monday arrested him in connection with the Punjab Saaf Pani Company (PSPC) scam, besides arresting the company’s ex-chief executive officer Waseem Ajmal.

In response to what appears to be another blow to the PML-N ahead of the election, the party has questioned the timing of Mr Islam’s arrest, alleging the NAB’s move is aimed at “benefiting” Chaudhry Nisar in the election.

“NAB arrested the PML-N candidate to benefit Chaudhry Nisar,” PML-N senior leader and former provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah said.

Meanwhile, in the same case PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif did not not appear before a combined investigation team of the NAB Lahore on Monday. This is the second consecutive absence of former chief minister from NAB investigation despite his claim that he would cooperate with the NAB in the PSPC and Rs14bn Ashiyana Housing Project scams.

PML-N questions action against Qamarul Islam

The NAB is also probing Shahbaz’s son Hamza and his son-in-law Imran Ali Yousaf for their alleged role in awarding contracts, and renting out a floor of a plaza (owned by Mr Yousaf) in Gulberg, Lahore, to the PSPC for Rs28 million a year, respectively. The plaza had already been sold by Mr Yousaf to Mr Ikram Naveed, former chief executive officer of the Punjab Power Development Company. Mr Hamza and Mr Yousaf have skipped one and three NAB appearances, respectively, in this case.

Interestingly, the NAB arrested Mr Islam after he failed to appear before the bureau on its first notice, raising many eyebrows, especially in the PML-N camp.

A NAB source, however, told Dawn the bureau took both Mr Islam, a former PSPC chairman and Mr Waseem Ajmal, its ex-CEO, into custody “the moment it got evidences of their corruption”. “NAB does not arrest any one mere on non-compliance of its notice in corruption investigations,” he claimed.

“Being convener of the procurement committee of the PSPC south, he (Mr Islam) did not ensure due diligence in award of contract in installation of 84 water filtration plants in Hasilpur, Bahawalpur, Lodhran, Rahim Yar Khan and Khanpur. Without approving engineering cost, he dishonestly approved the bidding documents,” the source said.

He further said Mr Islam also got approved a contract from the PSPC Board of Directors for KSB Pumps at exorbitant price. “Qamarul Islam is also accused of getting approved from BoD unsolicited proposal of 102 water filtration plants,” he said.

Similarly, he said, Mr Wasim Ajmal was also accused of illegally approving 36 additional water filtration plants to give benefit to the contractor and also approving Rs27 million payment to the management of Ali and Fatima Developers without the requisite approval of the BoD. “Mr Ajmal is also facing some other charges as well,” he added.

The NAB in November last year had launched a thorough probe into alleged corruption in the 56 public-sector companies, including the PSPC, formed by the Shahbaz Sharif administration in Punjab. These companies are accused of certain irregularities, recruitment in violation of procurement rules and merit, nepotism, and non-completion of various projects in time.

The NAB has also summoned former provincial minister Zaeem Hussain Qadri in the PSPC scam for June 27.

Mr Qadri has been asked to appear before a combined investigation team of NAB Lahore and bring in all relevant documents related to the PSPC.

Mr Qadri has recently parted ways with the Sharifs, accusing Hamza Shahbaz, of cornering him in the party. He is contesting from NA-133 (Lahore) as an independent candidate.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2018

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