ISLAMABAD: The Islam­abad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday scrapped a National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) reference against Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, as it acquitted the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader in the Narowal Sports City (NSC) case.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Saman Rafat Imtiaz heard the acquittal plea of Mr Iqbal and through a short judgement allowed the petition and subsequently quashed the reference.

In the reference filed in November 2020, the accountability watchdog accused Ahsan Iqbal of misusing authority by funding a provincial government project — Narowal Sports City — in his constituency and illegally increasing its scope from Rs34.75 million to Rs3 billion.

According to the prosecution, the Central Develop­ment Working Party (CDWP), headed by Mr Iqbal, had initially approved the Narowal project at a cost of Rs34.74m in 1999. The same year on his “illegal” directive to the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) and the National Engineering Ser­vices Pakistan, the project’s scope was enhanced to Rs97.52m.

Subsequently, the project was shelved, but it was resumed in 2009 at a cost of Rs732 million.

The project was later devolved to the provincial government after the passage of the 18th Amendment.

During the hearing, the high court asked NAB officials to substantiate the corruption allegations against the PML-N leader. The prosecutor replied that the additional prosecutor general, Jahanzeb Khan Bharwana, was not available to present arguments and sought adjournment. However, the IHC bench refused to postpone the hearing.

The accountability watchdog’s official told the court that the former NAB chief took a suo motu action in this case after a news report was published in a relatively ‘unknown’ paper against the PML-N leader’s involvement in the case.

Justice Minallah asked the investigation officer when was the case entrusted to him, to which the NAB IO responded that the case was assigned to him in 2018 and he arrested Iqbal in 2019.

The court questioned the investigation officer whether he was aware of the working of the CDWP and further asked why the NAB offered a former federal secretary to become an approver in this case even though he could be the principal accused in this reference.

Justice Minallah asked how could NAB raise questions over the integrity of CDWP -- a body comprising at least 30 senior officers and experts.

The prosecutor told the court that the executive board of NAB was examining the case of Mr Iqbal under the recent amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance. The court was of the view that there was no need to consider this case in light of the amended NAO.

The court observed that NAB also cited “inordinate delay in execution of the project” but it did not investigate who was responsible for delaying the project from 2000 to 2010. “Why did NAB not proceed against those who delayed the project for a decade?” asked the chief justice.

The investigation officer replied that it was the time of dictatorship; therefore, no action was taken against the officials. The court also noted that the investigation officer did not probe the officials of the Punjab government over the transfer of the project from the provincial to the federal government.

‘No corruption evidence’

After getting a clean chit from the high court, Mr Iqbal expressed his resolve to complete the NSC project to provide a state-of-the-art sports facility to the people of Narowal and adjoining areas. He added that the NAB reference had caused losses of millions of rupees.

He alleged former prime minister Imran Khan and former NAB chief Javed Iqbal had launched a campaign against the PML-N leadership and this reference was part of that ‘NAB-Niazi alliance’.

The planning minister said that NAB could not present any proof of corruption and admitted that there was no truth in the allegations of corruption against him.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2022

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