LAHORE: A former Lahore Development Authority (LDA) chief engineer, who previously became an approver of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in a reference to the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and others, retracted his prior statement on Tuesday.

“My prior statement was made under duress,” Israr Saeed responded to PM Shahbaz’s counsel’s inquiries during the cross-examination before an accountability court.

He alleged that the then-director general of the National Accountability Bureau-Lahore, Shahzad Saleem, director Muhammad Rafi, and case officer Aftab Ahmad had threatened him with recording a fake statement against Mr Sharif.

He claimed that the director enticed him to sign an already written statement by displaying arrest warrants for him.

“I was arrested for rejecting the NAB’s offer,” Saeed said, adding that NAB officials wanted to use his ‘false’ statement to get the bail of Shehbaz cancelled.

The former chief engineer alleged that then NAB chairman Javed Iqbal and then DG Shahzad Saleem visited him in the lockup during the physical remand.

“They ask me to sign the statement to make things good for me and them as well,” he said and also narrated the alleged inhuman treatment at the hands of the NAB during the physical remand.

Saeed said NAB did not oppose his post-arrest bail petition before the Lahore High Court after he became an approver under ‘duress’.

The accountability court adjourned the hearing of the reference to let the defence counsel complete the cross-examination.

The NAB alleged that Shehbaz and other accused persons caused a huge loss to the national exchequer by awarding the contract of the housing scheme to a company without bidding.

LDA former director general Ahad Khan Cheema and former principal secretary to prime minister Fawad Hassan Fawad are also accused in the reference.

The NAB arrested Cheema on Feb 21, 2018, on charges of misusing his authority with criminal intent and awarding Rs14 billion contracts of the Ashiana-i-Iqbal scheme. It alleged that Cheema received illegal gratification in the form of 32 kanals from the owners of Paragon City Developers in reward for the contract of the housing scheme awarded to its proxy firm namely Bismillah Engineering.

Kamran Kiyani, a brother of former army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, and Nadeem Zia, one of the owners of Paragon City, are also accused in the reference. They have recently joined the investigation after surrendering to the NAB.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2023

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