LAHORE: An accountability court on Friday granted the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) the physical remand of Punjab Excise and Taxation Department former director general Akram Ashraf Gondal for 10 days in the liquor licence case wherein Chief Minister Usman Buzdar is also accused of receiving kickback.

During the proceedings, NAB special prosecutor Hafiz Asadullah said Mr Gondal, who was arrested the other day, misused his authority and illegally granted L-2 category licence to a private hotel beyond the eligibility criteria.

He said the suspect also benefited the hotel by obtaining no objection certificates (NOCs) from different departments through other officials of the excise department. He said the hotel, which was being established adjacent to Lahore airport, secured an NOC from the Civil Aviation Authority after a refusal by the Cantonment Board.

A defence counsel on behalf of the former DG told the court that the licence was conditionally issued on Jan 9, 2019, and later cancelled on June 28. He said an appeal by the hotel against the cancellation of the licence was still pending before the Lahore High Court.

The counsel said his client superannuated one year ago after a spotless career in the government service. He said Mr Gondal extended his full cooperation to the NAB in its investigation and there was no need to keep him in custody.

To a court’s query, the prosecutor said there were only nine liquor licences in Punjab and the last one was issued 20 years ago.

Presiding Judge Amjad Nazir Chaudhry expressed his surprise as Mr Gondal revealed more than 200 such licences had been issued in Sindh province.

“Are they more liberal?” said the judge referring to the population in Sindh.

However, Mr Gondal said the population of minority communities in Sindh was more than Punjab.

The judge allowed 10-day physical remand of the suspect to the NAB with a direction to produce him again on Sept 28.

In this case, the NAB accused Chief Minister Buzdar of taking Rs50 million as bribe to force the Excise and Taxation Department to issue the licence to an under-construction hotel in violation of the law.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2020