NAB withdraws plea against Shahbaz in Ashiyana scam

Updated 04 Dec 2019

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The National Accounta­bility Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday withdrew a set of appeals when it failed to convince the Supreme Court what role former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had played in the Ashiyana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme to establish that he abused his authority.  — AFP/File
The National Accounta­bility Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday withdrew a set of appeals when it failed to convince the Supreme Court what role former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had played in the Ashiyana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme to establish that he abused his authority. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The National Accounta­bility Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday withdrew a set of appeals when it failed to convince the Supreme Court what role former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had played in the Ashiyana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme to establish that he abused his authority.

Subsequently, senior counsel Naeem Bokhari, representing the NAB chairman, pleaded before the court that he wished not to press the three appeals against the Feb 14 Lahore High Court order to release Shahbaz Sharif on bail in the Ashiyana housing scheme scam and his April 10 bail in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, as well as the release on bail of former principal secretary to the prime minister Fawad Hassan Fawad in the housing scheme scam.

A three-judge SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, disposed of the matter when the petitioner withdrew the appeals, but the counsel brought to the attention of the apex court that observations made in the high court’s order had the tendency of prejudicing the trial before an accountability court.

The apex court said the observations made in bail pleas were always tentative in nature and, therefore, could not prejudice the investigating agencies or trial court.

CJP observes former Punjab CM appears to be a good guy in the entire case

During the hearing, the apex court was unable to understand how the former chief minister was guilty of misusing his authority or committing or indulging in corruption when he himself sent the matter to a committee and later to the Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment when the allegations of procedural irregularities came to his notice.

In the entire case, the former chief minister appeared to be a good guy, the chief justice observed. Besides, he said, the loss of Rs3.34 billion to the Punjab government in view of cost escalation of the project was all anticipated.

The court was unable to grasp what crime the former chief minister had committed when he asked for proposals for public-private partnership, especially when such proposals were subsequently placed before the Board of Directors of the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC), as the entire project could not take off with the walking away of the successful bidder.

NAB argued that Shahbaz Sharif was facing the allegations of cancelling the first successful bid for the contract in bad faith and the successful bidder had to be paid Rs6 million as penalty and later intervening in the second bidding process.

Subsequently, it alleged, M/s Paragon City (Pvt) Ltd was awarded the contract for 2,000 kanals of land for Rs4 billion and, by using government finances, the project was turned into the public-private partnership one only to benefit M/s Paragon City.

The Ashiyana housing scheme was initiated with a land measuring 3,100 kanals allocated to the PLDC by the Punjab government. The land was located adjacent to that of M/s Paragon Housing Private Limited. In the first bidding process, the lowest bidder was M/s Chaudhry A. Latif and Sons which was awarded the contract for infrastructure development of the Ashiyana housing scheme, Lahore, on Jan 24, 2013.

A concise statement by NAB contended that Fawad Hassan Fawad, the then secretary implementation, had allegedly received illegal gratification/bribe amounting to Rs55m in two tranches from Kamran Kiyani, the owner of M/s Conpro Services Private Limited, the second lowest bidder, for which the money trail was also available. These amounts were allegedly received through banking channels in the names of Mr Fawad’s brother [Waqar Hassan] and his brother’s wife Anjum Hassan.

As a result, NAB alleged, Mr Fawad had pressurised the PLDC officials by concealing a March 5, 2013 report by an inquiry committee in which it was held that the contract was awarded to the lowest bidder in accordance with the PPRA rules though there were some procedural irregularities. The PLDC was also allegedly forced to write a letter on March 15, 2013, stating that it was not feasible for the PLDC to proceed with the project, which resulted in huge losses to the government.

Subsequently, the second bidding process for the Ashiyana housing scheme was initiated on Dec 22, 2013 in which 50 contractors applied for pre-qualification. Once again the former chief minister allegedly stepped in and headed a meeting of the PLDC on Feb 27, 2014 in which he was told that the second bidding process was in progress. On March 24, 2014, the second bidding process was again halted illegally and unlawfully on the directives of the former chief minister without any complaint, etc, NAB claimed.

This decision by the chief minister enabled Ahad Khan Cheema, the then director general of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), to obtain 100 kanals from M/s Paragon City (Pvt) Ltd as bribe, NAB alleged. In his final act of alleged corruption and corrupt practice, the former chief minister chaired a meeting of the PLDC at his Model Town residence in Lahore without an agenda or complaint in which only the PLDC chief executive officer and Ahad Cheema were present.

Out of nine directives in the Oct 21, 2014 meeting, eight were given in favour of Ahad Cheema and he was also asked to complete the project under the public-private partnership mode without mentioning any reason for this change which was contrary to the feasibility report, NAB contended.

Thus the PLDC was effectively placed under the LDA headed by Ahad Cheema, NAB said, adding that the decision so taken in the meeting by the former chief minister led to an agreement between the LDA and PLDC on Jan 27, 2015, enabling Ahad Cheema and Bilal Kidwai to indulge in corruption by awarding the contact to the SPARCO Group, a hotchpotch set-up created by M/s Paragon City, which also provided the bid security of Rs50m, equity amount of Rs1.6bn and Rs250m bank guarantees through Nadeem Zia, a director of M/s Paragon City, and also an absconder.

On Tuesday, the apex court also confirmed the bail of Munir Zia, one of the directors of Bismillah Engineering Services Company, with an observation that the intended arrest smacked bad faith. The court also regretted that the project, which on grounds never happened, had kept the courts quite busy.

The apex court also granted bail to Ashiyana housing scheme’s project director Bilal Qudwai on surety bonds of Rs1m each. The court also confirmed the bail granted to Sajjad Bhutta, executive director of M/s Paragon City.

The apex court, however, dismissed Fawad Hassan Fawad’s post-arrest bail plea in the Rs5bn assets-beyond-means case as his counsel withdrew the petition to avoid SC observation that may prejudice his case before the accountability court.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2019