2018 in review: Biggest corruption scandals of the outgoing year

'Corruption' and 'accountability' were the buzzwords of 2018 in Pakistan.
Published December 31, 2018

This year was ripe with news regarding financial scams as anti-corruption watchdogs delved deeper into illegal acts allegedly committed by public servants, politicians and even retired military officials.

Old files — some more than a decade old — were cracked open, setting in motion the wheels to send bigwigs behind bars. At least three former prime ministers appeared before courts in corruption-related cases while the leader of the opposition of the newly elected assembly was taken into custody.

Halfway through the year, as efforts to purge the country of corruption were underway, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) secured victory in the July 25 polls and championed 'accountability' even more fervently.

The accountability process, however, did not sit well with everyone. Since several of the accused belonged to political parties that are now in the opposition, the PTI and anti-corruption bodies were accused of 'selective accountability'.

As 2018 comes to a close, Dawn.com has compiled a list of the biggest corruption stories that dominated headlines during the past year — and in some cases, will continue to do so in 2019.

1. Nawaz Sharif found guilty in two corruption references

Nawaz Sharif and daughter Maryam on a Lahore-bound flight on July 13, 2018 to surrender to NAB. — AFP
Nawaz Sharif and daughter Maryam on a Lahore-bound flight on July 13, 2018 to surrender to NAB. — AFP

The accountability of Nawaz Sharif that started with the Panamagate verdict last year culminated in 2018 in the form of the verdicts announced by the accountability court in all three corruption references — filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) — against the former prime minister and his family members.

Only weeks before the general elections, Nawaz was convicted in the Avenfield property case on July 6.

The PML-N supremo was slapped with a prison sentence of 10 years for owning assets beyond known income while his daughter Maryam Nawaz was sentenced to seven years for abetment. Maryam's husband, retired captain Mohammad Safdar, was also sent to jail for a year for non-cooperation with NAB and abetting his wife and father-in-law.

Nawaz and Maryam's sentences were announced in absentia as the two were in London, looking after the former premier's late wife Kulsoom Nawaz who had been diagnosed with cancer.

The father and daughter upon their return to Lahore on July 13 were arrested by NAB authorities the moment they stepped off the plane and were shifted to Adiala jail.

Read: The sombre father and smiling daughter

The Islamabad High Court in September granted all three convicts bail after suspending their sentences.

Nawaz, however, faced another conviction in December at the hands of the accountability court — this time in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference — sending him back to prison. The court found him guilty of owning assets beyond means, handing him a seven-year jail sentence along with a fine of Rs1.5 billion and US $25 million.

Al-Azizia verdict 'is another stamp on Nawaz Sharif's honesty': Maryam Nawaz

Supporters of Nawaz Sharif gather outside the anti-corruption court in Islamabad ahead of the court verdict in the Al-Azizia reference. — AFP
Supporters of Nawaz Sharif gather outside the anti-corruption court in Islamabad ahead of the court verdict in the Al-Azizia reference. — AFP

Nawaz was taken into custody from the courtroom immediately after the judgement was announced and was shifted to Adiala jail. The next day, he was shifted to Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore on request of his lawyer Khawaja Haris.

The three-time former premier was acquitted in the third reference regarding Flagship Investments. NAB has announced that it will challenge the acquittal.


2. NAB arrests Shahbaz Sharif in Ashiana Iqbal scam

Shahbaz Sharif was arrested by NAB in Ashiana Housing scam in October. — AFP
Shahbaz Sharif was arrested by NAB in Ashiana Housing scam in October. — AFP

The younger Sharif — holding the important titles of PML-N president and Leader of the Opposition in the parliament — was snared by NAB in October in the Rs14 billion Ashiana Iqbal Housing Society corruption case.

News of his arrest broke 40 minutes after his arrival at the watchdog's Lahore office. The PML-N, however, cried foul, saying that Shahbaz had appeared before NAB in connection with the Saaf Pani case — not the Ashiana Iqbal scam. Party members accused the government of exacting political revenge, with Shahbaz blasting the 'NAB and PTI unholy alliance' on the floor of the National Assembly.

Explore: A timeline of developments in the Ashiana housing 'scam'

Shahbaz's arrest came after other high-profile figures — including former Lahore Development Authority chief Ahad Cheema and former principal secretary to the prime minister, Fawad Hasan Fawad — were taken into custody in the Ashiana case.

Though the housing scheme came under criticism as early as 2011 for its unusual conditions and difficulties in booking plots, it wasn't until Dec, 2017 that corruption charges came to the fore. NAB spotted illegalities in a land deal between between Paragon Housing Society and the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) and summoned Cheema. The former LDA chief recorded his statement in the case, following which NAB summoned Shahbaz in January, 2018 to inquire further.

You might find this interesting: Real estate scams

Shahbaz is currently in Islamabad, where his house has been declared a sub-jail. The arrangement was made after National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser issued production orders so Shahbaz could attend parliament sessions.


3. Zardari among bigwigs named in fake bank accounts, money laundering cases

Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur after appearing before a banking court. — Photo courtesy Online
Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur after appearing before a banking court. — Photo courtesy Online

In July, former chairman of the Pakistan Stock Exchange Hussain Lawai — widely believed to be a close aide of former president Asif Ali Zardari — was taken into custody by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in a fake bank accounts case dating back to 2015.

A day after Lawai's arrest, the Zardari Group's name emerged in connection with the case.

Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur were said to be involved in using the fake accounts for suspicious transactions and arrest warrants were issued against their names — both secured bail from a banking court.

The FIA uncovered more than a 100 'benami' accounts in Summit Bank, Sindh Bank and UBL that were used to launder about Rs35 billion. As the investigation progressed, the sum was revealed to be Rs54 billion.

Find out more: No case against me ever proved in courts, Zardari tells SC

Anwar Majeed being taken into custody by the FIA outside the SC. — File
Anwar Majeed being taken into custody by the FIA outside the SC. — File

Chairman of Omni Group Anwar Majeed — who is also said to be a close aide of Zardari — is nominated in the case along with his sons. He was arrested from the Supreme Court in August after appearing before the chief justice.

More about the case: CJP Nisar suggests 'Panama-style JIT' for Zardari, Talpur in fake accounts case

Majeed's sons are also named in the case and are currently in jail. Following the arrest of Anwar Majeed, the FIA raided multiple sugar mills reportedly owned by the Omni Group and claimed to have found documents and records that linked suspicious accounts to the companies.

The Majeeds are also accused of pilferage of Rs11 billion worth of sugar stocks. The stocks had been pledged by eight sugar mills owned by the Omni Group to different banks against loans obtained by the group.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who has not appeared before any court as yet, was sent a questionnaire regarding his bank accounts by the joint investigation team (JIT) probing the case.

On Dec 24, the JIT told the Supreme Court that a close nexus had been found between a troika of Zardari Group, Bahria Town and Omni Group.

Among other revelations, the JIT in its report showed that the trio used to transfer billions of rupees of kickbacks and commissions through their front companies and contractors/builders.

The bench, while seeking replies on Dec 31, banned sale/purchase and transfer of properties owned by the three groups and their front companies.

Three days after the report was shared with the top court, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that all 172 accused in the fake bank accounts cases — including Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and real estate tycoon Malik Riaz — are facing a travel ban.

For details of the JIT report, click here.


4. Bahria Town, DHA and CDA make it onto NAB's radar

A view of Bahria Town Karachi. — File
A view of Bahria Town Karachi. — File

Malik Riaz's Bahria Town is facing scrutiny in other investigations as well; in May, NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal ordered the anti-graft watchdog to start investigations against Bahria Town Karachi, Bahria Town Lahore and Bahria Town Rawalpindi following a Supreme Court verdict in a case against the housing projects.

The top court had declared that the land occupied by the administrations of Bahria Town of all three cities was illegal.

In June, however, the top court asked the bureau to suspend further action against Bahria Town while the bench hears the appeal against its verdict. Riaz agreed in writing to deposit Rs5 billion with the court and desist from selling any of his or his wife's properties.

In-depth: Bahria Town Karachi: Greed unlimited

Later, the court dismissed the review petitions and referred the matter to an implementation bench as per the directives of the May 4 judgement.

NAB also initiated an inquiry against administrations of Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Islamabad and Capital Development Authority (CDA) for over Rs62 billion DHA Valley and its Phase-II (extension) scams.

The DHA Valley case was brought to NAB's attention back in 2010 by a retired army official who claimed that the housing society — that was being built for retired army personnel — was being developed on the area reserved for the lake adjoining the proposed Dadhocha dam. Though NAB had authorised an inquiry in 2012, no significant action was taken until June this year.


5. Rafique brothers sent behind bars in Paragon Housing Society scam

Khawaja Saad Rafque (R) and brother Khawaja Salman Rafique (L) arrested by NAB authorities in Paragon Housing Society scam. — AP
Khawaja Saad Rafque (R) and brother Khawaja Salman Rafique (L) arrested by NAB authorities in Paragon Housing Society scam. — AP

On Dec 11, NAB Lahore arrested PML-N's MNA Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother Khawaja Salman Rafique — a former Punjab health minister — in connection with the Paragon Housing Society scam. Both are in NAB custody on physical remand.

The Rafique brothers are accused of receiving millions of rupees in commissions by illegal allotment of plots in the Paragon Housing Society scam. NAB had initiated an inquiry into the case late last year after finding illegalities in a land deal involving Paragon Housing Society and PLDC.

Take a look: Partial accountability

The brothers' arrests came two days before the by-election for PP-168 — the seat that had been vacated by Saad after he was elected from NA-131. The by-election was won by PTI's Malik Asad Khokhar.

Saad Rafique is facing another ‘major embezzlement’ investigation by NAB in railways land lease. The NAB chairman has authorised an inquiry against the former railways minister after the bureau’s investigators reportedly detected his alleged involvement in leasing out ‘precious commercial land’ of railways for ‘financial gains’.

The brothers' troubles don't end there — NAB has initiated another probe against the duo for possessing assets beyond their known sources of income.


6. NAB reopens 17-year-old case against three former generals, brigadier

Retired Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi. — File
Retired Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi. — File

A corruption case against retired army personnel, which had been gathering dust for 17 years, was cracked open this year after the Islamabad High Court in February ruled that retired military officers could not hide behind the army’s accountability process.

Weeks later, NAB decided to reopen the corruption reference against four retired senior army officers: former minister for railways retired Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, railways’ former chairman retired Lt Gen Saeed-uz-Zafar, former general manager retired Maj Gen Hamid Hasan Butt and former member retired Brig Akhtar Ali Baig.

The interior ministry placed the names of on the Exit Control List (ECL) at NAB's request.

They are accused of illegally transferring 140 acres of prime railway land in Lahore to a Malaysian firm during the Musharraf government in 2001 for development of a golf course called Royal Palms Gold and Country Club at throwaway rates, causing a loss of about Rs2.16 billion to the national exchequer.

Lt Gen Qazi served as director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence and Lt Gen Zafar as Peshawar corps commander. Interes­tingly, the military officials were summoned by NAB in the same case in 2012 for recording their statements, but nothing was done against them.

The watchdog officially filed the corruption reference against the four former army officers on April 2 in the Islamabad Accountability Court.


7. Under-arrest Sharjeel Memon finds himself in hot water over 'honey, oil'

NAB officials arrest Sharjeel Memon from outside the SHC building. — Photo courtesy Online
NAB officials arrest Sharjeel Memon from outside the SHC building. — Photo courtesy Online

Sharjeel Memon's arrest last year was just as interesting to watch as the 'honey and oil' mystery that unfolded during his incarceration in 2018.

On October 23, 2017, the Sindh High Court (SHC) had rejected the former Sindh information minister's bail plea in a corruption case pertaining to the award of advertisements at 'exorbitant rates' through the abuse of power. Memon, however, had remained holed up for hours in the courtroom to avoid arrest, with cameras fixed on the SHC building to capture the inevitable arrest.

Almost four months after the arrest, he was indicted this year in February. An accountability court also indicted former information secretary of Sindh, Zulfiqar Ali Shalwani, and 13 others in the corruption reference.

According to the reference, the suspected persons in connivance with one another have been accused of awarding contracts in violation of the relevant law and rules and at exorbitant rates.

NAB alleged that pre-qualification was conducted in violation of the Sindh Public Procurement Rules 2010 and the then information minister had illegally approved releasing of advertisements without due competition, costing Rs3.27 billion to the national exchequer.

Alcohol bottles recovered from Memon's room on Sep 1. — DawnNewsTV
Alcohol bottles recovered from Memon's room on Sep 1. — DawnNewsTV

Memon again made headlines in September when Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar raided his Dr Ziauddin Hospital room — where the PPP leader was staying due to medical reasons — and found liquor. Later, Memon was sent to prison while his three employees were detained.

The Sindh government’s chemical examiner, however, said that the bottles brought over contained “honey and olive oil” — but the police cast doubts over the lab findings and weeks later, filed a charge sheet against Memon, three employees and two prison officials for allegedly destroying evidence.


8. PML-N's Hanif Abbasi jailed for life in ephedrine case

PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi being taken into custody. — File
PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi being taken into custody. — File

Four days prior to the July 25 polls, PML-N stalwart Hanif Abbasi was arrested by officials of the Anti Narcotics Force (ANF) and sent to Adiala jail after he was convicted by the Control of Narcotics Substances Court of Rawalpindi and handed down life term in the case related to misuse of controlled chemical ephedrine.

Judge Sardar Muhammad Akram pronounced the judgment, saying Abbasi was found guilty of selling 500kg ephedrine illegally to narcotics smugglers. He also imposed a fine of Rs1 million on the PML-N leader.

Ephedrine scam: the case that wasn’t there

The ANF had booked Abbasi on the charge of misuse of 500kg ephedrine. The ANF in 2011 had registered another case against former federal minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin, Ali Musa Gilani, son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and others for alleged misuse of 9,000kg ephedrine, which is still pending before the CNS court of Islamabad.

Abbasi was contesting the election against Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid from NA-60, Rawalpindi. His conviction gave Rashid a walkover since there was no covering candidate of the PML-N in the constituency.


9. Former prime ministers Gilani, Abbasi under investigation

Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. — AFP
Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. — AFP

In March, former prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani was indicted in the years old multi-billion dollar Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) corruption case.

Gilani and some former and serving senior TDAP officials, along with a few others, were booked for their alleged involvement in the approval and disbursement of fraudulent trade subsidies worth billions of rupees to several fake companies through fictitious claims and backdated cheques during the PPP government's tenure.

The former prime minister is also facing a reference for his involvement in an allegedly illegal publicity campaign that caused a loss of Rs128 million to the national exchequer in 2011.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. — AFP/File
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. — AFP/File

NAB also initiated an inquiry against two other former prime ministers — Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi — for alleged misuse of power by giving a contract of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal to 15 different companies of their choice.

Abbasi, being a former minister for petroleum and natural resources, is the principal accused in the NAB case registered in 2015 regarding the award of the LNG contract. He has claimed several times in the past that nothing wrong had been done in the award of the LNG contract.


10. Media personalities face the music

Dr Shahid Masood appears at court for a hearing. — File
Dr Shahid Masood appears at court for a hearing. — File

Prominent television anchor Dr Shahid Masood became the news himself when the FIA in November arrested him from the premises of the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

A month earlier, Dr Masood had dodged the FIA as he escaped well before the special judge dismissed his pre-arrest bail plea.

Also read: Code for media & government

According to the FIA, Dr Masood — during his tenure as managing director and chairman of PTV — was involved in the embezzlement of Rs37 million in acquiring Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) media rights in 2008. Allegedly, the agreement was carried out with a fake company — M/s International Sports Solution (ISS). The investigators claim that funds were also released, causing the loss of millions of dollars to PTV as the state-run television channel failed to acquire PCB media rights from 2008 to 2013.

Former PTV managing director Ataul Haq Qasmi. — Photo courtesy Facebook
Former PTV managing director Ataul Haq Qasmi. — Photo courtesy Facebook

The same month, another TV personality came under fire — the Sup­reme Court held as illegal the appointment of playwright and columnist Ataul Haq Qasmi as cha­ir­man and director of the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) on a handsome package of Rs1.5 million excluding perks.

The verdict not only termed Qasmi’s appointment illegal but also held the appointing authorities — namely former information minister Pervez Rashid, former finance minister Ishaq Dar and then secretary to then prime minister Fawad Hasan Fawad — guilty of illegally making the appointment. It also ordered that Rs197.8m be recovered from them.

Read more on the verdict here.


11. Babar Awan resigns as PM’s adviser after NAB files Nandipur reference

Babar Awan handing in his resignation to Prime Minister Imran Khan. — File
Babar Awan handing in his resignation to Prime Minister Imran Khan. — File

NAB on September 4 filed a corruption reference against Babar Awan for his alleged role in delaying the construction of the 525MW Nandipur power plant (Gujranwala) being the law minister from 2008 to 2012.

A few hours after the filing of the reference, Awan handed in his resignation as the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs.

Besides Awan, former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf is also one of the main accused in the reference. He was serving as federal minister for water and power when his role was questioned. Other accused are retired Justice Riaz Kiyani, former law secretary; Shamila Mahmood, former research consultant at the Ministry of Law and Justice; Dr Riaz Mahmood, former senior joint secretary of law; and Shahid Rafi, former water and power secretary.

Find out more: New scam? Nandipur project

In the reference, NAB contended that the project had faced a delay of two years, one month and 15 days, resulting in a loss of Rs27.3 billion to the exchequer.

Awan, in an application filed seeking acquittal in the Nandipur reference, argued that NAB had accused him of causing delay in furnishing legal opinion for the Nandipur project when he was law minister. It said causing delay was not a crime and the prosecution could not point out any criminal intent for the alleged delay.


Compiled by Farwa Naqvi and Asad Farooq. Header illustration by Hufsa Chaudhry.