Shehbaz Sharif arrested by NAB on Ashiana Scam

Lahore: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Friday arrested the opposition leader in National Assembly and PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif in Rs14-billion Ashiana-i-Iqbal housing scam.

He had been summoned to Bureau’s Lahore office in connection with Saaf Pani company investigation, but was arrested in Ashiana housing scandal.

According to sources, the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif was decided a couple of days back when NAB Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal visited Bureau’s Lahore office. He held several meetings with senior officials of the Bureau in Lahore for three days in which a detailed line of action was prepared to arrest Shahbaz Sharif in Ashiana housing scam, a senior NAB official told The News on condition of anonymity.

Anticipating that former chief minister may not appear before the Bureau if summoned in Ashiana scandal, NAB ‘tactfully’ sent him a notice for appearance in Saaf Pani Company case for Friday, he added. “Had Bureau sent Shahbaz Sharif a notice regarding Ashiana housing case, he might have not turned up on Friday. That was why, we summoned him in Saaf Pani company case to arrest him,” the official said.

The News learnt that revelations made by Fawad Hassan Fawad, former principal secretary to ousted premier Nawaz Sharif led to the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif. Sources in the Bureau confirmed that in the previous appearance of Shahbaz Sharif before NAB’s Combined Investigation Team (CIT) on Aug 20, Fawad Hassan and Shahbaz Sharif were made to sit face-to-face and cross-examined.

However, Hamza Shahbaz denied any such meeting, saying the two had only exchanged greetings (salam dua).

The News learnt from the PML-N sources that Shahbaz had no clue about the next move of NAB before his arrest. The PML-N president was active on a WhatsApp group of the PML-N leaders and just 15 minutes before his arrest, he was giving them instructions about Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s press conference.

NAB sources said Shahbaz would be kept in highly secured lockup of Bureau’s Lahore office on Friday night and produced before an accountability court on Saturday (today) for obtaining his physical remand. However, added the sources, it had yet not been decided if he would be presented before the court handcuffed or not. It depends on the duty officer to take the decision as previously, the Bureau had faced criticism over producing high-profile accused before the court handcuffed.

After the arrest, a handful of PML-N workers held a protest demonstration in front of Bureau’s Lahore office. However, heavy contingent of Rangers deployed there forced the protestors to leave the scene.

In its report, available with The News, NAB levelled serious allegations against Shahbaz Sharif and listed several reasons for his arrest under Section 9(a) of the NAB Ordinance 1999.

NAB accused Shahbaz Sharif of ordering cancellation of the award of Ashiana-i-Iqbal project contract to the successful bidder, Chaudhry Latif & Sons. Fawad Hassan, who is stated to be a close aide to the Sharif brothers, worked as Secretary Implementation to Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif in 2013. While misusing his position, he allegedly called chief executive officer (CEO) of the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) Tahir Khursheed and Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Project Director Ali Moazzam in his office and directed them to cancel the M/s Chaudhry Latif & Sons was legal, and in accordance with the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules, as the firm was the lowest qualified bidder. Moreover, the firm was working on the project for the last eight months when Fawad Hassan called both officials and asked them to cancel the contract.

The Bureau’s investigation further revealed that Fawad concealed the report of an independent inquiry committee, headed by Secretary Finance Tariq Bajwa, which declared the award of contract to Chaudhry Latif & Sons as per law and in accordance with the PPRA rules.

In its report, NAB stated that younger Sharif, in a meeting dated 21-10-2014, had allegedly unlawfully directed PLDC to entrust the project Ashiana Iqbal Punjab to Lahore Development Authority (LDA).

This decision of the accused was illegal and mala fide as the PLDC was the company which was established for undertaking such housing projects, NAB wrote. “Furthermore, decisions of the company i.e., PLDC were to taken by the Board of Directors (BoD) of the company independently as per Cooperate Governance Rules 2013 and Companies Ordinance 1984 (now Companies Act 2017),” report reads.

This act on the part of Shahbaz Sharif not only negated the very objective of creations of PLDC but also caused huge losses to the state exchequer, NAB claimed, adding that the accused illegally transferred the project to LDA, which was headed by his close aide Ahad Khan Cheema.

After three years of cancelling the legal contract of Chaudhry Latif & Sons, in 2015, the then Director General LDA Ahad Khan Cheema, on the orders of Shahbaz Sharif, awarded the contract to M/s Lahore Casa Developers, said to be a proxy group for M/s Paragon City (Pvt) Limited, allegedly owned by PML-N leader Khwaja Saad Rafique.

Ahad Cheema, who is in judicial custody in Ashiana Housing scam currently, allegedly received illegal gratification in the form of 32-kanal land valued at Rs30.09 million approximately from the owners of the Paragon City (Pvt) Ltd.

The NAB report reads: “This was done just to give unlawful benefit to blue eyed firm namely M/s Bismillah Engineering Service Company, which was proxy firm of M/s Paragon City. The PPP mood was adopted in order to give undue benefit of 2000 kanals of state land under the garb of remuneration for construction of flats in Ashiana-i-Iqbal Barki Road, Lahore.

M/s Casa Developers is a joint venture of three firms: M/s Bismillah Engineering Services Co, M/s SPARCO Construction Company and M/s China First Metallurgical Group Company Ltd.

The contractor failed to initiate the Ashiana-i-Iqbal project over the past three years, which caused a loss of approximately Rs193,000 million to the national exchequer.

Due to illegal cancellation of contract with the Chaudhry Latif & Sons company, the government had to pay Rs5.9 million to the contractor as damages. The contractor had spent Rs70 million at the time when the contract was cancelled, the official said. The illegal cancellation of the contract delayed the project also, which resulted in cost escalation worth billions of rupees.

In the process, the notational kitty suffered a loss of Rs715 million. Not only this, the services of a firm, Engineering Consultancy Services Punjab (ECSP) (Pvt) Limited, were hired for Ashiana-i-Iqbal project on the orders of Shahbaz Sharif. The firm charged Rs192 million for the job, while the actual cost was supposed to be Rs35 million, as quoted by Nespak.

NAB had arrested Fawad Hassan Fawad on July 5 after receiving a number of complaints regarding an illegal deal involving 3,000-kanal of land between the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC), owned by the government and different private companies.

According to the NAB sources, the Bureau team had already given Shahbaz Sharif the following questions:-

* Reasons of failure of Ashiana-i-Iqbal housing scheme project? Why the scheme was not started even after seven years? Why M/s Latif & Sons was given the contract? Why no action was taken against Casa Developers? Did you (Shahbaz Sharif) know that Casa Developers was a fake company?

* Did you know M/s Paragon belonged to Saad Rafique? What is the relation between M/s Paragon and Casa Developers? Did Saad Rafique recommend Casa Developers? Who are those who got illegal gratification from the LDA and the PLDC?

* Why the PLDC was established in the presence of LDA? What is the job of PLDC? As per the PLDC rules, no one can intervene in its affairs, then why you intervened in its affairs even knowing all this?

* On October 21, 2014, why you (Shahbaz Sharif) had issued orders to the PLDC even after the PLDC Board had held its meeting? What were reasons for establishing the PLDC and no one including the CM could have intervened in the affairs of such companies?

A spokesman for PML-N, Marriyum Aurangzeb told The News that Shahbaz Sharif had gone to NAB office alone, without any legal aide. She said the legal team of PML-N president was trying to get the charge-sheet to know what charges the Bureau had levelled against the opposition leader for his arrest.

Meanwhile, NAB has requested the interior ministry to place the names of Khwaja Brothers (Kh Saad Rafique and Kh Salman Rafique) on the Exit Control List (ECL).

NAB on Friday also summoned Kh Saad Rafique and Kh Salman Rafique again in an investigation related to Paragon Housing Scheme scandal. The Bureau has asked Khwaja Brothers to appear before the CIT by Oct 16.

NAB had launched an investigation in 2017 into a land scam involving Kh Saad Rafique’s Paragon Housing Society and the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC).

Initial probe found that a contract agreement was signed between the PLDC and Anhui Construction Engineering Group, owned by Director Paragon Exchange Ali Sajjad, Bismillah Engineering Company, owned by the chief executive of Paragon City Nadeem Zia and SPARCO Group.

Later, the bureau sought an explanation from Khwaja Brothers regarding “exchange of their 50-kanal piece of land with ‘developed plots’ measuring 40 kanals of land in Paragon Housing Society through an agreement. However, it has not been confirmed yet whether Khwaja Brothers had submitted their reply or not.

Sources in the Bureau stated that Khwaja Brothers failed to satisfy the investigation team in their previous appearances. Moreover, they said that this time Khwaja Brothers had been asked to bring details of their money trail related to sale and purchase of lands.

NAB is also investigating Khwaja Saad Rafique for alleged embezzlement in the purchase of 55 locomotives.

AlamulKhabar Pakistan