HYDERABAD: The National Accou-ntability Bureau (NAB), Sukkur, appeared to be yet another investigator to start its own probe into the M6 land acquisition scam involving the Naushahro Feroze deputy commissioner, who has since been suspended. Several Sindh government teams have already been holding inquiries into the scam separately.

The Sukkur NAB team visited Sindh Bank’s concerned branch in Naushahro Feroze — part of Shaheed Benazirabad division — on Friday to launch its probe by checking transactions and records.

Shaheed Benazirabad Commissioner Rasheed Zardari confirmed that NAB officials did talk to him as well. “But since NAB has its own procedures, I am not aware of the proceedings of their inquiry into the matter,” he said.

The team acquired records relating to the payments purportedly made to around 850 small growers under the ‘land acquisition award’. Initial reports suggest that growers were given 50pc of the amount payable to them towards the land acquisition award. The growers drew the amount in cash from the bank.

Naushahro Feroze DC proceeded abroad before inquiry into Rs3.61bn cash transactions began

The entrance of the branch was shut when the NAB team arrived. The NAB officials met Sindh government’s probe team as well in the committee room.

Naushahro Feroze DC Tashfeen Alam — an officer of the Pakistan Administr-ative Services (PAS) cadre — travelled to Azerbaijan, reportedly via Dubai, on Nov 19. He was suspended on Nov 23 after having “gone missing”.

The payments under the land acquisition award were transferred by the National Highway Authority (NHA), which had planned to build the Hyderabad-Sukkur section (M6) of the motorway, for which proceedings under the Land Acquisition Act, 1849 were to be mandatorily complied with.

Sindh government’s team in Naushahro Feroze is headed by Sajjad Hyder, a seasoned revenue officer. This team and that of FIA were said to have recorded statements of growers and revenue officials (60 in all). The revenue teams that had surveyed the land were asked to provide relevant record.

A Sindh-based source in the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has acknowledged that a NAB team had started its own probe. “Our teams are there in Naushahro Feroze and Matiari districts working separately,” said the source. Initial reports indicated that around Rs3.61bn was said to have been doled out to landowners in Naushahro Feroze district to acquire their lands, said the source.

Teams of Sindh government are already investigating land scams in both districts. “Our [FIA’s] team is collecting record from Sindh Bank and verifying it with other details,” said one FIA official.

Land acquisition in Matiari district

In Matiari, Rs2.14bn were withdrawn in cash from Sindh Bank’s Saeedabad branch under instructions of then assistant commissioner Mansoor Abbasi (now at large on pre-arrest bail) through 438 cheques although the Award under Section 11 of the Land Acquisition Act (LAA), 1894 was not passed.

According to an FIA source, Sindh Bank also wanted to get an inquiry initiated by FIA on its management’s complaint but it has not been done yet. “The bank also wants FIA to launch a probe for it as it is a different kind of fraud under the LAA otherwise usually embezzlement is done in land acquisition matter in different ways involving banks, parties and revenue officials,” said the FIA official.

The NHA had cumulatively transferred Rs4.092bn into the account of Matiari’s DC and an amount of Rs2.14bn was withdrawn in cash by then AC Saeedabad. An amount of Rs1.94bn remained in balance in the bank branch. Another Sindh government’s team headed by Home Secretary Dr Saeed Magnejo had asked the Sindh Bank management to freeze the account to avoid any further transaction.

Sindh government’s fact finding team headed by additional secretary Shahmir Khan Bhutto was provided only eight incomplete files of landowners in Matiari when it visited the district for fact-finding on Nov 14 and then submitted its report to the government, leading to suspension of the DC and registration of an FIR by the Anti-Corruption Establishment.

An amount of Rs1.385bn was transferred from Bank Al Habib to the Sindh Bank account operated by the then Matiari DC and afterwards an amount of Rs2.70bn received from the NHA was also deposited in the DC’s Sindh Bank account.

Meanwhile, Matiari’s former DC Adnan Rasheed has been arrested. He was brought to the Civil Hospital Hyderabad for a medical checkup on Thursday night.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2022

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