ISLAMABAD: Former director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) retired Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi and former senior officials of Pakistan Railways, including former secretary retd Lt Gen Saeed-uz-Zaman, have sought their acquittal in Railways Golf Club corruption reference under the recently promulgated accountability ordinance.

Retd Lt Gen Javed Qazi, who was also former chairman of Pakistan Railways and federal minister for communications and railways, former chairman of the Railways Board retired Lt Gen Zaman, retired Maj Gen Hamid Hassan Butt, retired Brig Akhtar Ali Baig, Iqbal Samad Khan, Khurshid Ahmed Khan, Abdul Ghaffar, Ramzan Sheikh, Pervaiz Qureshi, sponsors of Royal Palm Golf Club, and five other officers were allegedly involved in illegal award of lease of Railways Golf Club in Lahore.

The accused have challenged the jurisdiction of the accountability court on the grounds that the recently promulgated presidential ordinance has excluded them from the ambit of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO).

After the promulgation of the National Accountability Second Amendment Ordinance, 2021, the jurisdiction of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been curtailed. Section 4 of the ordinance has curtailed the jurisdiction of the accountability court as sub-section 2-C excludes “any person or entity who, or transaction in relation thereto, which are not directly or indirectly connected with the holder of public office”.

They were allegedly involved in illegal award of lease of Railways club, causing Rs2.2bn loss to national exchequer

Accountability Judge Syed Asghar Ali, after preliminary hearing of the acquittal pleas, issued a notice to NAB and adjourned the further proceedings till November 8.

According to NAB investigation, the railways had in 2001 offered the lease of its golf club in Lahore for 33 years for which several firms submitted bids. During the bidding process, the lease period was illegally enhanced from 33 years to 49 years. Moreover, the land offered for lease was also illegally increased from 103 acres to 140 acres by demolishing Railway Officers Colony. Hence a precious piece of land of Pakistan Railways was illegally leased out in a non-transparent manner to grant illegal benefits to the leaseholder and owner of Mainland Hasnain Pakistan Ltd, a private firm.

According to NAB, it has been established during the investigation that accused persons committed corruption through misuse of authority by illegally awarding 49-year lease of Railways Golf Club measuring 140 acres in 2001 to Mainland Hasnain Pakistan Ltd for commercial purposes, causing a loss of around Rs2.2 billion to the national exchequer.

The reference against the four army officers was filed after the Islamabad High Court’s observation that retired military officials could not hide behind the army’s accountability process.

Interestingly, the military officials were summoned by NAB in the same case in 2012 for recording their statements but no action was taken against them.

The Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly, in its meeting on September 14, 2012, had called for cancellation of the controversial lease agreement. It had recommended a fresh bidding for the land lease and also called for strict disciplinary action against the former bosses of railways, including the three retired generals, who had endorsed the agreement.

A comprehensive report issued by the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Railways on the allotment of land for setting up the golf club had exposed several financial and administrative irregularities and recommended prosecution of all members of the railways executive committee.

The Federal Investigation Agency carried out a separate investigation on the special committee’s instruction. Its report said that 141 acres had been allotted at a nominal price, causing a loss of Rs4.82bn to the national exchequer, because the land utilisation charge had been reduced from Rs52.43 to only Rs4 per square yard.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2021

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