ABDUL Aleem Khan.—AP
ABDUL Aleem Khan.—AP

LAHORE: In what appears to be a setback to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government in Punjab, its powerful senior minister Abdul Aleem Khan has been arrested by the country’s anti-graft body for apparently possessing assets beyond his known sources of income and other corruption allegations.

After his arrest, the minister submitted his resignation to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, saying it was not “morally right” for him to stay in office. Mr Khan’s arrest, some believe, may empower CM Buzdar and the group hostile to Mr Khan within the PTI that is led by Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar.

Mr Khan on Wednesday appeared before a combined investigation team of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in Lahore with reference to his alleged offshore companies (mention of which was made in the Panama Papers leak), income beyond means and the acquisition of land in various Lahore housing societies through benami bank accounts.

“Mr Khan was taken by surprise when he was told by the NAB team that he could not go back home,” a source told Dawn, elaborating that the minister last appeared before NAB some six months ago and that he had not been anticipating arrest. “The minister pleaded that since he was cooperating with the investigators, there was no point in his arrest,” the source said. “At this the investigators told him that the required evidence against him [Mr Khan] was available, and therefore he was being taken into custody.”

Aleem Khan submits resignation after arrest; anti-graft body insists that step taken over fears that record might be tampered with

In its statement, NAB said it had arrested the minister fearing that he might tamper with the record [regarding his offshore companies and other suspected dubious transactions]. The accountability body added that Mr Khan, while being the secretary of the Parkview Cooperative Housing Society, a member of the Punjab Assembly, and minister for information technology during the 2005-06 period, had been involved in acts of corruption.

“The suspect [Aleem Khan] accumulated assets beyond known sources of income within Pakistan and outside,” said the NAB statement. “He established multiple companies with the purpose of real estate business and invested millions of rupees. He bought more than 900 kanals land in different mauzas of Lahore in the name of his company M/s A&A Pvt Ltd, and also paid advance for [an] additional 600 kanals of land [that] he could not account for the sources of the said investments.”

The NAB statement added: “In 2005-06, apart from the inland assets, suspect Abdul Aleem Khan established offshore companies in the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. The offshore companies acquired assets of extensive value which are beyond the known sources of income of the accused.” Saying that it was likely that the suspect might tamper with the prosecution evidence through coercion, criminal inducement and criminal intimidation, the bureau stated that “The arrest of the suspect is necessary to unearth other assets which he may hold in his ownership or in the ownership of his benamidar, and for the collection of evidence and concluding the inquiry/investigation in accordance with law.”

The PTI announced that it would accept the NAB decision and not launch a protest as though it were the opposition. “Mr Khan will face the NAB investigation and defend himself in the courts of law,” Punjab Information Minister Fayyzul Hasan Chohan said.

The opposition itself, meanwhile, reacted cautiously. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader and former governor of Sindh Muhammad Zubair said that accountability should be across the board — not selective. “To ensure accountability, Prime Minister Imran Khan should remove all cabinet members who are facing a NAB investigation under corruption charges,” Mr Zubair demanded. PML-N MNA Rana Sanaullah, meanwhile, responded to a question about a balancing act, given that his party’s president Shahbaz Sharif was arrested earlier in the Ashiyana housing scheme and now this was the first high-profile PTI leader to have faced the same: “Aleem Khan’s stature cannot be matched with that of Shahbaz Sharif. When Pervaiz Khattak is arrested, then we will see.”

The PPP advised the PTI to focus on ensuring transparent investigations in the cases against Mr Khan. “The government must help NAB in this respect instead of taking credit,” said Punjab PPP president Qamar Zaman Kaira.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2019