PTI leader Awan acquitted in Nandipur reference

Updated June 26, 2019

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Acquittal of ruling party’s senior VP before completion of trial criticised by the opposition parties. — DawnNewsTV/File
Acquittal of ruling party’s senior VP before completion of trial criticised by the opposition parties. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: An acc­ou­n­tability court on Tuesday gave a clean chit to senior vice president of the Pakis­tan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and former law minister Dr Babar Awan in the Nandipur reference and dismissed the acquittal plea of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader and former prime minister Raja Pervez Asharf.

The acquittal of the ruling party’s senior vice president before the completion of the trial was criticised by the opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the PPP, which termed it part of ‘selective’ accountability.

Judge Mohammad Arshad Malik of the accountability court had reserved an order on the applications of Mr Ash­raf and others in the Nan­dipur reference a day ago. It was announced along with the order on Dr Awan’s application on Tuesday. The prosecution had produced four witnesses who did not testify against the former law minister in the reference.

Dr Awan contended before the court that the summaries had been moved to the law ministry before he assumed the portfolio of law minister. He argued that the prosecution had tabled the entire record related to the case in nine volumes whereas the key witnesses from the ministries of energy, cabinet division and law and justice had recorded testimonies.

He said there was not an iota of evidence that would connect him with any delay or negligence in the Nandipur reference. He said no summary had been pending before him. There was only a letter from the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco), whereas Pepco according to rules of business was not supposed to write the letter to the law ministry directly, he added. Pepco could write letter through the controlling ministry, which was the water and power division, he argued, claiming that the law ministry did not accord any approval even after his resignation.

According to him, the minister was not supposed to approve or forward the summary as it was the job of the law secretary and justice division. He claimed the reference itself never blamed anywhere in the reference for committing any criminal offence.

NAB’s prosecutor opposing the acquittal plea said the reference against the ex-minister and other accused had been filed after a thorough probe and consultation with the law ministry. He said the law ministry had held Dr Awan responsible for causing undue delay in the project. The law ministry had accorded approval to the Nandipur project, he said, adding that as a next step the ministry was supposed to sign the form related to sovereign guarantee but it was delayed for over one year. He informed the court that the law ministry was repeatedly asked to expedite this matter while Dr Awan held the portfolio, but to no avail.

Dr Awan’s statements were contradictory and there was much more to be brought to the court’s notice against him during the trial proceedings, the prosecutor said.

On Sept 5, the Rawalpindi NAB filed a reference against seven politicians and officials. In the reference, NAB contended that the project had faced a delay of 25 months and 15 days, resulting in a loss of Rs27.3 billion to the exchequer. The project, located in Gujranwala district, could not be completed and operated on time because the accused had failed to issue legal opinions.

The Nandipur project was approved by the Economic Coordination Committee on Dec 27, 2007, at a cost of $329 million.

After approval, the contract was signed on January 28, 2008, between the Northern Power Generation Company Limited and the Dong Fang Electric Corporation, China and two consortiums – Coface for 68.967 million Euros and Sinosure for $150.151m – were set up for financing the project.

The water and power ministry sought legal opinion on the project from the law ministry in accordance with the schedule of the agreement in July 2009, but the accused repeatedly refused to do so.

The ministry of water and power also failed to take any concrete steps to resolve the issue and the matter remained pending.

However, the court dismissed the acquittal plea of PPP leader Mr Ashraf in the same reference.

Two different decisions of exonerating Dr Awan and dismissal of Mr Ashraf’s acquittal plea in the same reference was a question mark on the accountability, said PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira. “Prima facie it is a controversial decision of the accountability court,” he said.

NAB instituted bogus cases against PPP loyalists in order to pressure them to change their loyalty, he alleged, adding that the reference was filed when Dr Awan was in the PPP.

Terming it an incontestable evidence of NAB-Niazi nexus, PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah said it was an example of new and old Pakistan. Acquittal of the ruling PTI’s leader in a reference exposed the process of accountability, he added.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2019