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KARACHI: An accountability court on Saturday sentenced a former chairman of the National Insurance Company Limited and its five ex-directors to seven-year imprisonment in a case pertaining to Rs490 million corruption in the company’s funds in 2010.

The court found former chairman Ayaz Khan Niazi and directors Mohammad Zahoor, Syed Hur Riahi Gardezi, Zahid Hussain and Amin Qasim Dada guilty of committing offences relating to misuse of official authority, corruption and corrupt practices punishable under Section 10 of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.

Expressing surprise that the investigation officers of the National Accountability Bureau and the Federal Investigation Agency had “deliberately spared” and “not implicated” then additional commerce secretary Qamar Zaman Chaudhry — who was later appointed as the chairman of NAB — in the present case, the court also ordered the heads of the federal anti-graft watchdog and the prosecuting agency to take action against their IOs.

Judge Dr Sher Bano Karim of the Accountability Court-III also disqualified the convicts from holding any public office, if any held by them, besides being elected as member or representative of any public body and from availing financial facilities for a period of 10 years to be reckoned from the date they would be released after serving the sentences.

The court recommends action against IOs for ‘deliberately sparing’ ex-NAB chief Chaudhry

However, the court exonerated then commerce secretary Suleman Ghani from charges of abetment in the illegal appointment of Ayaz Niazi as the NICL chief by giving him the benefit of doubt.

Two accused Akbar Butt and Syed Mohammad Iqbal had entered into a plea bargain agreement with NAB and voluntarily returned an amount of Rs490m.

The case against two absconding suspects, Javed Syed and Khalid Anwar Khan, was kept on dormant file till their arrest and perpetual warrants for their arrest were issued.

The prosecution alleged that the convicts caused huge financial losses to the national exchequer by purchasing 10 acres of land in Deh Phihai of Karachi’s Korangi area in August 2009 at Rs90m per acre against the maximum market price of Rs20m.

The investigation against then commerce minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim and NICL directors was initiated on the directives of the Supreme Court.

The former minister was also allegedly involved in the controversial appointment of NICL chairman Niazi who had purchased the land and the scam was detected after his appointment.

Then commerce secretary Zafar Mehmood sent a complaint to the FIA on Nov 16, 2010, asking it to investigate all land purchases by the NICL and sought registration of a separate case regarding embezzlement in funds.

Ex-NAB chairman ‘maliciously excluded’ from list of accused

In the 117-page judgement, the judge observed that an IO was expected to maintain a very high standard of integrity and had to be fair, but in the present case both the IOs of the FIA and NAB had failed to perform their responsibility.

It mentioned that the defence counsel had argued that Qamar Zaman Chaudhry being the then additional secretary of the commerce ministry was one of the members of the board of NICL’s directors.

But, the IO while investigating the matter and preparing the investigation report had “maliciously excluded him from the list of accused persons, whose role [is] at par of the accused persons facing trial before this court”.

Mr Chaudhry later served as NAB chairman from Oct 2013 to Oct 2017.

“IOs of FIA and NAB have resorted to pick and choose and not implicated Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, who participated in meetings of Board of Directors of NICL,” the judge observed.

The verdict added: “So also nowhere he (Chaudhry) gave any dissenting note neither disagreed with the decision of the board, but he was not implicated as accused, neither IO justified it, on the contrary IO during cross examination admitted to have not found any dissenting note of Chaudhry regarding selection of land and price of land.

The judge remarked that it was a matter of concern for the authorities as to why the persons prima facie involved in the scam had been left off by the IOs.

“It is the duty of NAB to ensure indiscriminate action against corrupt persons across the board to establish it credibility amongst the masses, failing which, public exchequer again shall be looted by the unscrupulous persons, who have no interest at all in the well-being of the nation,” the judge remarked.

It directed the office to send a copy of the judgment to the NAB chairman and FIA for information and taking action against the IOs.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2018