Ashiana scam: NAB also arrests PM’s former secretary

LAHORE: Ahead of a key decision in a corruption reference against former premier Nawaz Sharif and his family, the top anti-graft watchdog on Thursday arrested Sharif’s former secretary and close aide Fawad Hassan Fawad on charges of corruption in Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme scam and 3 other projects.

Fawad, who also served as secretary to former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and was regarded as the most powerful bureaucrat in the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, was summoned by the National Accountability Bureau Lahore (NAB) at least 11 times but he appeared only thrice.

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NAB, however, arrested him on Thursday when he appeared before its investigation team at Lahore’s Thokar Niaz Beg complex and could not give ‘satisfactorily answers’ to the questions posed by the investigators in Ashiana-e-Iqbal and other relevant cases.

The Lahore Development Authority (LDA) former chief Ahad Khan Cheema is already under custody in connection with the housing project scandal the probe into which extends to Punjab former chief minister and the PML-N current chief Shehbaz Sharif.

NAB will present Fawad before an accountability court today (Friday) to seek his physical custody. Describing the grounds of his arrest, a NAB investigator said Fawad while serving as implementation secretary to former Punjab CM in Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Project had misused his authority.

Talking to The Express Tribune, he said the accused person issued illegal orders to the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) Chief Executive Tahir Khursheed to suspend after eight months a contract ‘legally’ awarded to Chuadhry Latif and Sons.

An inquiry under the supervision of Finance Secretary Tariq Bajwa was conducted to investigate nature of the award of contract to Chaudhry Latif and Sons and the inquiry had declared it legal and in spirit of Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules.

He said Fawad kept the inquiry report secret from the concerned authorities. He said Chaudhry Latif and Sons had not only paid Rs70 million as mobilisation advance but the work on the project had also been initiated.

“The government had to pay Rs5.9 million due to this illegal suspension of the contract,” he said, adding that the illegal steps by the accused had not only caused inordinate delay in the initiation of project but also resulted in increase in the cost of the project by billions of rupees.

“NAB had repeatedly summoned the accused person but he only appeared for three times,” he added.

In February 2018, NAB arrested LDA former chief Ahad Khan Cheema on charges of corruption in the scam. NAB also arrested four of his accomplices in the scam.  During investigations, NAB found that Cheema had played a role in illegally awarding the contract to Casa Developers, the company that was not eligible for it according to Public Private Partnership Act, allegedly in return 30 kanals of land.

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The payment to purchase the land was made from an account of Paragon Housing Society. In another case regarding Paragon, NAB found that a murky deal was also made between Paragon and Ashiana for exchange of 40 kanal land. NAB later filed a reference against Cheema, who is now in jail.

Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Project was a public-private partnership project initiated by Punjab government presumably to provide homes to public at subsidised rates. Despite spending billions of rupees, the project could not even be started.

Other grounds for arrest

The investigator said Fawad a while serving as Punjab health secretary also bought six mobile units at an exuberant rate of Rs55 million per unit. He ‘illegally’ served in Bank Alfalah from Sep 2005 to July 2006 despite the fact that secretary establishment had quashed his request for this appointment.

Fawad while serving in Sprint Energy, a sister organisation of the JS Group, allegedly prepared a counterfeit NOC for shifting of nine CNG pumps from one district to other. These irregularities performed by the accused person caused loss of billions of rupees to the exchequer, he added.

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