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– File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has decided to implement a plea bargain deal it struck with owner of the Haris Steel Mills for recovery of Rs8 billion loan taken from the Bank of Punjab (BoP) despite reservations expressed by the bank.

“We are implementing the Supreme Court’s orders and have had a major breakthrough in the case which we have been investigating since 2007,” a senior NAB official told Dawn on condition of anonymity on Sunday.

NAB’s spokesman Zafar Iqbal justified the deal struck with Sheikh Muhammed Afzal, the owner of the mills, and said NAB chief Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari had decided to accept the request of the accused for a plea bargain under section 25 of the NAB Ordinance-1999.

He said that under the law the NAB was not bound to get approval for such a deal from the complainant.

When contacted, a senior official of the BoP said the bank had decided to challenge the Rs8.4bn plea bargain in Supreme Court.

“Our main objection is that NAB accepted a plea bargain of the accused instead of directly recovering the plundered money,” he said.

He said the interest payable on the loan taken in 2007 had gone up to Rs4.5bn but there was no mention of this in the NAB’s deal. The BoP official alleged that NAB approved the plea bargain without consulting the bank.

Under the deal approved by the NAB on Dec 24, the request for plea bargain made by Mr Afzal was accepted for Rs8.404bn, declaring that Rs3.667bn stood received while Rs4.737bn was payable in five years, with 10 half-yearly instalments of Rs473.7 million each. The first instalment would be paid six months after Mr Afzal’s release from prison.

The NAB accepted the deal in part because it was worried that after remaining in prison for more than five years the court could grant the accused a bail at any time, according to the sources. “Once out of prison on bail, the accused would not have come to the NAB for a deal. In such a scenario, the plundered money would not have been recovered,” the official said.

Meanwhile, the NAB’s executive board meeting that approved the Rs8.4bn deal also approved another voluntary return request for a Rs1.6bn loan taken from the same bank by the BNP group which is presently building a five-star hotel in Islamabad.

The BoP has allowed the Rs1.6bn deal without any objection even though the money is to be returned in ten years, as opposed to the five years given to owner of the Haris Steel Mills.

The NAB official said the management of the BoP was on board when the deal was approved.