PESHAWAR: Following a yearlong struggle, former provincial minister Ziaullah Afridi received crucial records under the law on right to information from the anti-corruption establishment regarding a high-profile case in which he is charged by the erstwhile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ehtesab Commission (KPEC) with committing multiple illegalities in the mines and mineral department.
The records included minute sheets of several observations made by two KPEC officials, who pointed out certain illegalities and loopholes on part of the investigation team in the case against Mr Afridi and even warned that the case would fail in the trial court.
The records were provided on the orders of the KP Information Commission, which had issued directions on June 5 to the provincial establishment department and ACE in this regard.
He had approached the RTI Commission in Apr last year after the government departments were reluctant to produce those records.
Ex-minister gets records regarding illegalities in mine case under RTI law
In the provided records, two of the minutes sheets were written by law officer of the commission Nawaz Khattak and three other by additional deputy prosecutor general (DPG) Qazi Babar Irshad.
Information commissioner Riaz Khan Daudzai, in his detailed order, has overruled the government contention that the requested record was in exempted category and could not be provided to the applicant, Mr Afridi.
“The commission placed the letter of the Director of the Anti- Corruption Establishment on record and held that as such neither any specific provision of the KP RTI Act or any other law had been referred to whereby exemptions has been sought in the matter in question nor prima facie requested information hit any exempted category,” the commissioner ruled.
Interestingly, when the complainant had initially filed application with the establishment department on Mar 13, 2019, the ACE in a letter to the secretary establishment had clearly stated that the provision of the requisite record may directly result in altering the decision of reference in the Court.
Mr Afridi, who was an MPA elected on the PTI ticket from Peshawar in the 2013 general elections, was arrested by the KPEC on July 9, 2015, initially on the charge of facilitating illegal mining in the province when he was first special assistant to the chief minister on mines and mineral development and then minister of the same department. Subsequently, the Ehtesab Commission had registered three more cases related to the same department.
He was released on bail by the Peshawar High Court in Oct 2016. After arrest, he had alleged that the then chief minister, Pervez Khattak, had maneuvered his arrest as he was feeling threatened because of his closeness with the party central leadership and actions he had taken against illegalities of some important persons in mining sector.
Later, he had joined the Pakistan Peoples Party.
The erstwhile KPEC was abolished in Jan 2019 by the provincial government and all the cases and investigations pending before the commission were transferred to the ACE.
The case of Mr Afridi was also entrusted to ACE and the relevant reference was referred to court of special judge anti-corruption for trial.
In one of the minute sheets, the law officer Nawaz Khattak said the reference of illegal appointment against the accused, Ziaullah Afridi, was no case in its present form.
“No incriminating material available on record to connect the accused with the commission of the offence in framework of white Collar Crime.”
Similarly, about Tangi Chromite Case, wherein Mr Afridi was charged with favouring a person in renewal of lease of chromite mines, the law officer stated that an important aspect had been ignored by the acse officer by not inserting the name of Jalal Khattak, the main beneficiary, in the column of accused persons. The same flaw was also pointed out by Additional DPG Qazi Babar Irshad but the case officer had not included name of Jalal Khattak as accused in the case.
In another minutes sheet of Apr 2016, Qazi Babar Irshad stated that the record transparently spoke that there was no cogent evidence available in reference of illegal appointments against the accused Ziaullah Afridi which could lead to his conviction.
He had also pointed out that an official investigating the case named Behram Khan could not legally investigate the same as his services were hired by the ehtesab commission as financial expert. Similarly, he pointed out that another officer Nawab Khan could not act as investigation officer as he was hired as field operator.
The ADPG said even before his appointment, Nawab Khan had been made member of the investigation team and he had also recorded and signed different statements of witnesses, which was unlawful.
Meanwhile, on basis of that record, Mr Afridi has approached the court of the special judge (anti-corruption) for his acquittal under Section 265-K of Code of Criminal Procedure, which empowers the trial court to acquit an accused at any stage of the trial when there is no probability of his conviction on basis of available record.
The court will proceed with his application on July 7.
Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2020