PESHAWAR: A local accountability court has allowed the National Accountability Bureau to formally close its investigation against former chief minister Pervez Khattak and several officials into the much-publicised case of the alleged irregularities in the 2014 leasing of government land in Malam Jabba, Swat.
Judge Shahid Khan accepted an application of NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal for the purpose as the latter claimed that that no evidence of corruption by Khattak (now defence minister), and other officials had been found in the matter.
The application was filed under Section 9 of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), which provides that the bureau should refer a matter to the accountability court for approval of the formal closure of an investigation if after completing the probe of an offence against a holder of public office or any other person, the chairman is satisfied that no prima facie case is made out.
The application was filed in Sept this year mentioning that investigation began against former chief minister Pervez Khattak, former additional chief secretary (planning and development) Khalid Pervez, then managing director of Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mushtaq Khan and others regarding the alleged illegal lease of 275 acres of state forestland in Malam Jabba to Samsons Group of Companies.
Accountability court allows closure of probe into matter
The NAB chairman insisted that he was satisfied that no prima facie criminal case was made out against the accused under the provisions of the NAO and therefore, the matter was referred to the accountability court for approval of the closure of investigation against them.
“In view of the facts and circumstances coupled with record made available, the request of the NAB for closure of the investigation is prima facie valid and genuine to the extent of award of contract with regard to its irregularities followed by its rectifications accordingly, as such, exercising jurisdiction under Section 9(C) NAO 1999 read with Section 18(d) of NAO, the request so floated is allowed accordingly.
“The NAB authorities may close the investigation against the accused, including former chief minister Pervez Khattak, former additional chief secretary (P&D) Khalid Pervez, managing director of the Tourism Corporation KP Mushtaq Khan, and others in respect of the subject case,” the court declared in its three-page order on the application.
It, however, said the closure of the case should not affect any other proceedings, departmental or otherwise, against the accused or delinquent officials or officers and should not prevent the start of inquiry or investigation against corruption or misuse of authority against them if any.
The allegations in the investigation included the illegal lease of forest land measuring 275 acres; extension of lease period from 15 to 33 years by the chief minister; and irregularities in the award of contract or bidding process.
The court observed that the matter regarding the alleged illegal lease of forest land had been disposed of by the Peshawar High Court in its order on Oct 1, 2020, by directing the KP additional chief secretary (ACS) to immediately submit the report of a committee, already notified by the provincial government on Jun 25, 2018, to settle the dispute of ownership/ title of 270 acres of forest land.
The court observed that the committee gave its findings in a report, which was approved by the provincial cabinet on Dec 28, 2020, according to which the tourism department was the rightful owner of the said land and not the forest department and the land in question was federal land and was given prior to merger of Swat state in Pakistan. The report also provided that prima facie the entry in the revenue record was erroneous.
The court further declared that the matter had been resolved and the subject land had been de-notified. “Similarly, the lease period has also been approved by the Cabinet from 15 to 33 years, as such, ex post facto sanction was granted,” it observed, adding that the issue had also been thoroughly examined by the NAB in its EBM (executive board meeting) and it had been expressed that the malice and mala fide had not been surfaced in the grant of subject lease and allied matters.
Neither the bureau in its application nor the court in its order have mentioned the names of all those against whom the investigation was conducted except Pervez Khattak, Khalid Pervez and Mushtaq Khan.
In the investigation, the bureau had also issued call-up notices to several important people, including current Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, who was then tourism minister, provincial minister Atif Khan, former chief secretary Amjid Ali Khan and then tourism secretary Mohammad Azam Khan (now the prime minister’s principal secretary).
In the application, the NAB said certain violations had been highlighted during investigation regarding award the contract and bidding process but the project had been completed and was fulfilling the purpose, further no loss had been caused to the government exchequer as project was awarded to the highest bidder.
“The matter regarding irregularities found in the biding process is being referred to the chief secretary for taking appropriate action against the delinquent officers,” it added.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2021