The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Saturday declared that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, during his time as the chief minister of Punjab, did not obtain any benefit from the government funds or misused his public office in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case.

It also cleared other co-accused, including senior bureaucrat Fawad Hasan Fawad, former director general of the Lahore Development Authority Ahad Khan Cheema and Kamran Kiani —brother of former army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kiani — of any wrongdoing.

The corruption watchdog’s latest clean chit for the prime minister came a little more than a week after he, his family members and others were cleared in a money laundering case.

The Ashiana scandal first emerged in January 2018 when NAB accused Sharif, the then opposition leader, of ordering the cancellation of a contract given to successful bidder Chaudhry Latif and Sons for the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme, which led to the subsequent award of the contract to Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy group of Paragon City Private Limited, resulting in a loss of Rs193 million.

He was also accused of directing the Punjab Land Development Company to assign the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to the Lahore Development Authority, which awarded the contract to Lahore Casa developers, causing a loss of Rs715m and the ultimate failure of the project.

NAB had also accused Shahbaz of directing the Punjab Land Development Company to award the consultancy services contract for the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to Engineering Consultancy Services Punjab for Rs192m, while the actual cost was supposed to be Rs35m as quoted by Nespak, a renowned engineering consultancy.

Shehbaz as well as senior bureaucrat Fawad Hasan Fawad, former director general of the Lahore Development Authority Ahad Khan Cheema and several others were arrested later that year.

READ: A timeline of developments in the Ashiana housing case

However, in February of the ongoing year, roughly a year after Shehbaz came into power and became the prime minister, a former Lahore Development Authority (LDA) chief engineer, who had previously become an approver of the Ashiana reference, retracted his prior statement.

Last month, an accountability court had issued notices to the NAB seeking its reply on acquittal pleas of the now Prime Minister Shehbaz and Cheema.

In its reply submitted to the accountability court today, the NAB stated that Shehbaz had referred the matter of awarding the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project to M/s Ch A Latif & Sons to the Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment “in accordance with law with no malafide intent”.

Acquitting the premier of the allegation of misusing his office, the report says that the offence is not established under the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.

Regarding the allegations against Kamran Kiani —brother of former army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kiani — the NAB has said: “Accused Kamran Kiani was also not involved in causing any loss of funds of government or embezzlement of funds.”

Discharging former principal secretary to prime minister Fawad Hassan Fawad from the case, the NAB stated that he was “not involved in receiving any bribe from Kamran Kiani to favour him by misusing his authority”.

The NAB further said that neither the accused nor the contractor derived any benefit from government funds or expenditures in the case.

Noting that there “may be some procedural flaws” in the formulation of the request for proposal (RFP) and the subsequent award of contract to M/s Lahore Casa Developers, the NAB said the “same are not intentional or with malafide intent”.

“It has been established that no pecuniary benefit is obtained by any public office holder by misusing his official position,” the corruption watchdog added.

Taking into account new and additional evidence, the NAB report says, “It is established beyond any doubt that there is no loss caused to the government exchequer.”

The NAB has requested the accountability court to make a decision on Shehbaz’s acquittal plea in accordance with law.

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