ISLAMABAD: In a decision expected to raise eyebrows among opposition parties as well as legal circles about the effectiveness of the National Accountability Bureau, a top government functionary facing serious allegations of corruption was on Wednesday ‘cleared’ by NAB, paving the way for his release from custody.
Mushtaq Ahmed Raisani, the then finance secretary of Balochistan, hit the headlines in May this year when NAB seized over Rs730 million hard cash from his house in Quetta hours after he was taken into custody.
As the drama involving the recovery of such a large amount began to unfold, the finance man was also found to be owning as many as a dozen houses in Karachi, whose estimated cost was said to be around Rs2 billion.
Editorial: Balochistan’s corruption problem
With the suspect caught keeping millions in illegal money and owning property obtained beyond his known sources of income, it appeared to be an open-and-shut case ending with his conviction — until NAB’s decision on Wednesday.
The executive board meeting (EBM) of NAB, which itself had put Mr Raisani’s corruption figure at Rs40bn, accepted his plea bargain request for Rs2bn. NAB chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry presided over the meeting.
Mushtaq Raisani’s plea bargain request of over Rs2bn accepted
“The EBM decided to accept plea bargain request of over Rs2 billion of Mushtaq Ahmed Raisani, Secretary Finance Balochistan, and Sohail Majeed Shah, contractor and frontman of Khalid Lango, ex-adviser to Chief Minister Balochistan,” the NAB spokesman confirmed.
He said it was the biggest-ever plea bargain deal struck by NAB.
In reply to a question, the spokesman said Mr Raisani would be “fully cleared” after the deal is approved by the accountability court. However, he would not be able to seek any government job or a bank loan for next 10 years.
“We have already recovered over Rs1 billion cash from the accused which was in addition to confiscation of his 12 houses,” the spokesman said.
Responding to a question about the houses, he said although the estimated cost of the houses was said to be over Rs2bn, their actual worth was being evaluated. A decision in this regard would be taken only after determining the value of the houses, he added.
More than anything else, NAB’s decision may be questioned for going against its own practice. Usually, NAB strikes plea bargain deals to recover the looted or misappropriated amount. Mr Raisani’s case, however, has taken a strange turn. NAB recovered almost Rs1bn cash from his possession and confiscated 12 houses worth Rs2bn, which means NAB has already got Rs3bn in cash and kind, while the amount that has to be deposited by the accused under the plea bargain deal is Rs2bn.
Answering a question about Mr Lango, who was also arrested in the case, NAB spokesman said he would be dealt separately.
What is plea bargain?
In September, the chief justice of Pakistan took a suo motu notice regarding the authority of the NAB chairman to approve the voluntary return of the ill-gotten money by a wrongdoer.
Talking to Dawn, senior lawyer Mohammad Farooq explained that a request of voluntary return was made during the inquiry stage while the plea bargain application was moved after filing of a reference under Section 25(A) and (B) of the NAB Ordinance, respectively.
He was of the view that the apex court’s suo motu notice covered both voluntary return and plea bargain deals since it was regarding Section 25 of the NAB Ordinance.
However, he pointed out, legally the NAB chairman can exercise his authority since the Supreme Court had not issued any interim restraining order to this effect.
Ashraf faces fresh references
The EBM also took other significant decisions, including the approval of two more references against former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in the Rental Power Project case.
Mr Ashraf has already had eight references filed against him in the accountability court by NAB.
In the first reference approved on Wednesday, Mr Ashraf and owners of the Reshma Power Generation have been accused of misuse of authority by misrepresentation of facts by the ministry of water and power to the Economic Coordination Committee and the federal cabinet.
The second corruption reference is to be filed against Mr Ashraf and owners of the Gulf Rental Power. They have been accused of misuse of authority by signing the contract without approval of the Northern Power Generation Company Limited.
Investigations & inquiries
The EBM authorised three investigations.
The first investigation is against Azeem Iqbal Siddiqui, a former managing director of the Sui Southern Gas Company, and others regarding misuse of authority in the purchase of Progas assets without following the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority rules and conducting detailed financial and technical analysis of M/s Progas. This caused a loss of Rs1.174bn to the exchequer.
The second investigation was authorised against Sardar Hayat Muhammad Khan Mandokhel of a private firm called Exceed for occupying the government land situated in Saidpur village, Islamabad, causing a loss of Rs455m to the exchequer.
The third investigation was authorised against Dr Ehsan Ali, vice chancellor of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, and others. The suspects allegedly embezzled/misappropriated university funds allocated for the procurement of IT equipment.
The EBM also decided to authorise six inquiries. The first inquiry will be carried out against officers/officials of Pakistan International Airlines regarding re-hiring of certain officers after superannuation in the PIA on the contract basis without prior approval of the competent authority and completion of codal formalities.
Four inquiries were authorised against officers/officials of National Bank of Pakistan for classified loan account of M/s Abdullah Saleh Al-Rejhi Estt, regarding illegal advances of Bahrain Branch; A-classified loan account of M/s Bargat Aviation; sale of Sukuk bonds for $16m at NBP Bahrain and New York City branch; and, for misappropriation of $30m at Riyadh.
A separate inquiry was authorised against Dr Ehsan Ali, vice chancellor of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, for allegedly embezzling/misappropriating the university funds allocated for procurement of various items.
The meeting re-authorised inquiry against officers/officials of District Administration Shaheed Benazirabad for misuse of authority and embezzlement of government funds.
Besides, NAB decided to close three inquiries against Mir Munawar Ali Talpur, MNA, Sindh; Sardar Hussain Babak, a former minister for education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and officials of the ministry of railways for lack of incriminating evidence.
Published in Dawn December 22nd, 2016