KARACHI: An accountability court has acquitted three men, including a former chairman of the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) in a corruption reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Ousted PSM chief Moin Aftab Shaikh, ex-director (commercial) Sameen Asghar and Capt Rasheed Abro, a local representative of the Nobel Resources Limited, were charged with allegedly committing irregularities in the purchase of raw material that caused a loss of Rs537.97 million to the exchequer.

It was a third reference pertaining to alleged corruption that NAB had failed to prove against them since 2012.

Judge Farid Anwar Qazi of the Accountability Court-IV had pronounced his verdict on Feb 29 after recording evidence and final arguments from both sides.

The judge noted that the prosecution miserably failed to prove its case against the former PSM chief and others.

Therefore, the court exonerated the three from all charges by extending them the benefit of the doubt.

Earlier, Mr Shaikh and Sameen Asghar appeared in court on bail while the defence counsel moved an application pleading to exempt Mr Abro from personal appearance before the court due to his bad health condition.

The court dismissed an application for de-freezing of the remaining 50 per cent salary account and euro currency account of the ex-PSM chief till the disposal of four remaining references still pending trial.

The judge noted that it was not appropriate to de-freeze the said accounts. However, he said Mr Shaikh was at liberty to repeat such an application after disposal of all pending references against him.

According to the prosecution, the suspects had allegedly manipulated the purchase of coking coal at extremely exorbitant price and also manipulated its shipment deliberately on higher inflated rates compared to the prevailing market rate.

They allegedly caused losses to the tune of Rs537.97m to the national exchequer.

Initially, the Federal Investigation Agency had launched an inquiry into the alleged scam after the Supreme Court in 2009 initiated suo motu proceedings on PSM’s affairs and subsequently transferred the investigation to NAB.

NAB had filed around seven references against the ex-chairman and other senior officers and contractors in pursuance of seven FIRs lodged by the FIA.

Of them, an accountability court had already acquitted Shaikh and Asghar in two identical references.

Advocates Shaukat Hayat, Khalid Hussain Dahar, Khawaja Naveed Ahmed and Manzar Bashir represented the accused persons while Dr Mohammad Ali Raja appeared for NAB.

While highlighting the role of the NAB investigating officer, Mohammad Hanif Mahesar, in the present reference, the judge wrote: “The investigation conducted by the investigating officer is not up to the mark. It is based on malafide, dishonest and non-professional attitude of the investigation officer.”

“Investigation Officer did not collect reliable and convincing evidence in this matter, it could be due to his incompetence or lack of knowledge on the subject,” the judge wrote.

The judge added: “It was the duty of the Investigation Officer to collect relevant and corroborative piece of evidence in the instant matter but he failed to do so. The person, involved in above said practice, should be taken at task for exemplary action so that others may get a lesson.

“It is for the authorities concerned i.e. Chairman NAB to examine such aspects at his own level and hold the person punishable under the Section 31 of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.

“In view of above circumstances, the Chairman NAB is directed to constitute the requisite committee and conduct inquiry against the delinquent Investigation Officer as provided under the law under intimation to this Court,” the judge ordered.

The judge also directed the office to send a copy of the judgement to the NAB chief for compliance and necessary action.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2020

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