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Haj corruption case Kazmi gets bail and freedom

August 28, 2012

RAWALPINDI, Aug 27: Former religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi was released on bail on Monday after 17-month incarceration for his alleged involvement in Haj corruption case.

Special judge customs Mohammad Ahmed Farooqi, acting as special judge central of Rawalpindi, accepted his bail plea against a surety bond of Rs200,000.

On emerging from the FIA Academy, where he was kept prisoner for “security reasons”, Mr Kazmi told Dawn that his accusers could not produce “an iota of evidence” against him during the trial.

“I will go to the people’s court after getting acquittal from the court of law. Until I am declared innocent, I will be restless,” he said.

Ever since he was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on March 15, 2011, in the Haj corruption case, Mr Kazmi had been seeking post-arrest bail but was denied same by the special judge central on April 14, 2011, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on May 15, 2011 and by the Supreme Court on August 8, 2011.

On Monday, however, the special court accepted Mr Kazmi’s bail plea, filed under section 497 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), “on statuary grounds”. Section 497 entitles an undertrial accused to bail if he has completed one-year detention because of delay in the trial proceedings.

His counsel, Sardar Naseer, told the court that Mr Kazmi was not responsible for the delay in the trial proceedings and should not be kept in jail indefinitely for the fault of others.

Advocate Naseer pointed out that FIA did not even charge Mr Kazmi with offences of serious nature during the entire period of more than 17 months in confinement.

FIA special prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, however, blamed the “unnecessary delay” in the trial on the other two accused in the Haj corruption case - former director general Haj, Rao Shakeel Ahmed, and former joint secretary of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Aftabul Islam Raja.

He said Rao Shakeel caused a delay of over seven months while counsel for joint secretary Raja also requested adjournment of proceedings on a number of occasions.

According to the FIA special prosecutor, Mr Kazmi was facing the charge of negligence, framed under section 5 (2) 1947 of the Prevention of Corruption Act. The other accused also were charged under the same section and additionally under sections 109, 409, 420, 468, 471 of Pakistan Penal Code for fraud, cheating, misuse of authority, and causing loss to the national exchequer.

According to the charge sheet, the former minister was facing the charge of negligence for issuing directions to the officials of his ministry for the preparation of the passport and travel documents of the middle man Ahmed Faiz who volunteered to work as building supervisor with the hiring committee comprising Rao Shakeel, Aftabul Raja and Umersher Zai, the then Pakistani ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Former DG Haj Rao Shakeel and Joint Secretary Aftab Raja were facing the charges related to hiring 87 substandard buildings at faraway locations and on higher rents and of receiving kickbacks and commission.

Under the Haj policy of 2010, the hiring committee could pay for a hired building an advance of 15 per cent but they paid 55 per cent rent in advance, the charge sheet said.Special judge Farooqi, meanwhile, reserved the judgment on Rao Shakeel’s application seeking unfreezing of his bank accounts.

FIA prosecutor told the court that the investigation agency has traced Rs70.5 million in the bank accounts of former DG Haj and the amount is much beyond his known sources of income.

He alleged that Rao Shakeel received kickback amounting to Saudi Riyals 3.6 million in the hiring of 87 buildings for the pilgrims in 2010.

On his part, Mr Kazmi intends to pursue his accusers further.

“I have already filed a case against former minister Azam Swati and reserve the right to file legal suits against others who levelled false allegations against me, including former envoy to Saudi Arabia Umersher Zai,” he told Dawn after his release on bail.

Mr Kazmi said he wanted to set an example by bringing to court “those who hatched conspiracy against others and implicated innocent persons in false cases”.