LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday arrested former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother former Punjab health minister Khawaja Salman Rafique after the Lahore High Court dismissed as withdrawn their bail pleas in the Paragon housing society scam.
Their arrest has been made ahead of the December 13 by-polls on the Lahore (PP-168) seat, which was vacated by Mr Saad after winning the National Assembly seat from Lahore (NA-131) in October by defeating ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Humayun Akhtar. At the same time NAB also started examining a complaint against former information minister and spokesperson of the main opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Marriyum Aurangzeb for allegedly possessing assets beyond her known sources of income.
NAB tightened the noose around the Khawajas after Paragon housing society director Qaiser Amin Butt consented to turn approver in the case.
Anti-graft body also begins probe into a complaint against party spokesperson; Fawad says arrests show country is moving in ‘right direction’
Scores of PML-N workers gathered outside the court and chanted slogans in favour of their leaders and a few of them lifted Mr Saad on their shoulders when NAB personnel tried to arrest the former ministers. On his appeal, however, the charged workers did not resist their arrest.
In a brief address to the workers, Mr Saad said: “The voice of people cannot be silenced. The patience of the PML-N is being tested but we will get justice soon.” He claimed NAB had failed to produce any evidence against him and his brother. “We brought the facts before the NAB chairman and the court but did not get relief. However, we will continue respecting the courts,” he maintained.
During the proceedings on their bail petitions for a fourth consecutive time, a two-judge LHC bench asked the lawyers for the Khawajas to advance their arguments on the report filed by NAB. The bench said it could adjourn hearing for a day if the counsel needed time for preparation of arguments. However, it added that the counsel for both Mr Saad and Mr Salman would have to conclude their arguments the same day as the court was not going to hear them on alternate days. At this, counsel for the Khawajas Azam Nazir Tarar and Amjad Pervez resumed their arguments and denied the allegations levelled by the anti-corruption watchdog.
Advocate Pervez said the Khawaja brothers owned 40-kanal land in the 7,000-kanal Paragon housing society. He said the petitioners had provided their commercial plots for the scheme and received residential plots in return. The petitioners also paid Rs200 million as development charges for the 40-kanal land, he said, while rejecting NAB’s allegation that the society was a “benami” property of the Khawaja brothers. In their tax returns, he argued, the petitioners disclosed each and every penny they earned.
The counsel alleged NAB had been forcing people to make confessions against opposition party leaders. NAB “tortured” Paragon housing society director Qaiser Amin Butt and made him turn approver against his clients under the “influence of drugs”. The counsel argued that an “approver” had no value in the eyes of law.
The prosecutor said the allegation of political victimisation was baseless, explaining that NAB’s Lahore director general had been asked to seek prior permission from the chairman before initiating any other investigation against the Khawaja brothers. He admitted that the NAB chairman had rejected the Khawaja brothers’ application seeking transfer of the inquiries against them from Lahore to any other region.
The bench, headed by Justice Tariq Abbasi, after hearing both sides observed that no case was made out of pre-arrest bail in light of the reasons submitted by NAB for the arrest. At this, the counsel for the petitioners said they wanted to withdraw the petitions. Therefore, the bench dismissed the petitions as withdrawn.
NAB will produce the Khawajas before an accountability court on Wednesday (today) to get their physical remand.
Giving grounds for their arrest, NAB claimed that suspect Saad Rafique, through his ‘benamidar’ wife Ghazala Saad, brother Salman in association with Qaiser Amin Butt and Nadeem Zia established a housing project in the name of the Air Avenue that was converted into a new housing project namely M/s Paragon City Pvt Ltd.
“Record shows the Paragon city is an illegal society. The suspect in collaboration with Zia and Butt cheated the members of public at large and obtained illegal pecuniary benefits from the funds of said illegal housing project. Saad Rafique is operating this illegal housing project through the co-accused persons who are collecting deposits from general public despite clear directions of the Lahore Development Authority that this project is unapproved. The suspect has been continuously obtaining illegal/ illegitimate funds/ benefits from the said project as he obtained 40-kanal plots in his own name and in the name of his brother [Mr Salman],” NAB alleged.
Misusing his official position, Mr Saad obtained undue benefits in the form of sale of numbers of commercial plots worth of billions of rupees which were actually not owned by the Paragon City, thus the buyers had been cheated, NAB prosecutor argued.
Only last week the former railways minister had told a press conference that his “difficult days” would be over if he became a “good boy” and kept mum on the wishes of the powers that be.
The PML-N described the arrest of Khawaja brothers as “unholy NAB-PTI government” alliance. PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif in Islamabad condemned their arrest and termed it the “worst example of civilian dictatorship”.
PPP parliamentary leader in the Punjab Assembly Hassan Murtaza also condemned the arrest of the Khawajas, alleging that NAB was “targeting only opposition members”.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the arrest [of PML-N leaders] showed that the country was heading towards “a right direction”.
“The government has no role in the arrest of the Khawaja brothers [by NAB] and stopping Hamza [the son of PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif] by the Federal Investigation Agency from travelling abroad. They [the Khawaja brothers] have been arrested in the cases which the PTI government had not made. Those arresting them are also not appointed by the PTI government,” said the information minister in a reference towards NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal.
Mr Chaudhry claimed that the state institutions were “independent” and they were acting independently. “What we know is that they [PML-N leaders] have made a lot of money,” he added.
Complaint against PML-N spokesperson
NAB spokesperson Nawazish Ali Asim confirmed to Dawn that the bureau had received a complaint against former information minister and opposition party spokesperson Marriyum Auranzeb (regarding income beyond means). “We are examining the complaint as per law,” he said.
Ms Aurangzeb declined to comment. However, another PML-N leader said “this complaint” carried a message for Ms Aurangzeb to “observe silence or face the music”.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2018