KARACHI: The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) received a major setback as an accountability court on Monday admitted a reference against its Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani and his family members for allegedly accumulating assets worth over Rs1.61 billion.

Mr Durrani, a senior leader of the PPP, was arrested by NAB from an Islamabad hotel on Feb 20 for investigation into his alleged movable and immovable assets beyond his known sources of income, making 352 illegal appointments, embezzlement of public funds in the construction of the MPA Hostel and the new Sindh Assembly building, as well as the appointment of project directors for these schemes.

On Monday, Accountability Court-III judge Dr Sher Bano Karim pronounced her verdict reserved on an application filed by Mr Durrani on June 17 questioning the maintainability of the reference. He was produced in court from prison.

The judge held the reference maintainable for hearing and admitted it to initiate trial against the suspects. The court issued notices to all the 20 nominated suspects and fixed the matter on July 13.

The PA speaker and former minister allegedly accumulated assets worth Rs1.6bn

The anti-corruption watchdog also named Mr Durrani’s wife, Naheed Durrani, son Agha Shahbaz Ali Khan Durrani, daughters Sanam, Shahana and Sara, his younger brother Agha Masihuddin Khan Durrani and his alleged frontmen and abettors.

Earlier, defence counsel Amir Raza Naqvi argued that cognizance could not be taken on the basis of the reference against Mr Durrani or his family members as he inherited the assets from his forefathers. He added that the prosecution failed to properly investigate the matter and filed the reference with mala fide intentions and ulterior motives for the sole purpose of victimising his client.

NAB prosecutor Shahbaz Sahotra contended that Mr Durrani and his family members were given due opportunity of hearing by issuing them call-up notices to explain legitimacy of their movable and immovable properties, but their replies were found unsatisfactory.

He said that after proper inquiry and investigation the reference was filed, which was maintainable for initiating trial. He asked the court to accept the same.

The reference mentioned that the evidence collected during the investigation established that Mr Durrani after becoming minister for local government (from April 12, 2008 to March 20, 2013) and speaker of the Sindh Assembly (since May 30, 2013) accumulated the assets/pecuniary resources worth Rs1,610,669,528 (after deduction of declared income in the Federal Board of Revenue) through illegal means and in active connivance with his 19 co-accused, who are his family members, servants and frontmen as benamidars.

Thus, the accused persons were involved in committing the offence of corruption and corrupt practices punishable under Section 10 of the NAO, 1999. The prosecutor said that a supplementary reference would be filed, if deemed necessary, after arrest of the accused persons who were absconders.

The reference mentioned that Mr Durrani declared to NAB his income from 1985 till June 2018 as Rs82,927,218 and a total gross income of the family declared to the FBR was Rs110,460,343. However, the properties/assets/expenditure incurred in his name as well as in the name of his family members/dependents and benamidars had so far been determined at Rs1,721,129,871. He failed to reasonably explain the difference of Rs1,610,669,528.

It mentioned that the assets worth over Rs310 million were allegedly found in the name of his wife, daughters, son, brother and frontmen and abettors.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2019