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Accountability court begins trial of ex-PM, PTI leader in Nandipur project case

Accountability court begins trial of ex-PM, PTI leader in Nandipur project case

ISLAMABAD: An accountability court of Islamabad on Tuesday formally commenced proceedings against PTI leader Babar Awan, former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and others in the Nandipur power project reference.

Ex-law secretaries retired Justice Riaz Kiani and Masood Chishti, former secretary water and power Shahid Rafi and some officials of the ministries of law, water and power are also among the accused.

All the accused on Tuesday appeared before the court and marked their attendance after which the proceedings were put off to Oct 2.

Scores of lawyers accompanied Mr Awan and Mr Chishti in the courtroom. Contrary to the decorum, they were seen filming inside the courtroom and taking pictures and selfies with the accused. One of the lawyers even took a selfie with Mr Ashraf while the latter was sitting at the rostrum.

Accused caused delay of over two years to the power project resulting in loss of Rs27.3bn to national exchequer, NAB reference says

When the accountability judge called Mr Chishti for his thumb impression, the lawyers chanted: “Pir sahib, Pir sahib.” This annoyed the judge who said: “What is happening here?”

When the judge asked “where are the prosecutors”, senior lawyer Arshad Tabrez sarcastically replied that the old prosecutors had gone since NAB made some new inductions in the prosecution.

A lawyer told Dawn that the Lahore High Court Bar Association had passed a resolution against NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal and demanded his resignation for implicating Mr Chishti, a former president of the association, in the Nandipur reference.

He said the lawyers in Lahore had warned NAB prosecutors and investigation officers not to enter the premises of the barroom. Due to the backlash, none of the prosecutors or investigators attended the proceeding while the accountability court was packed with the lawyers loyal to Mr Awan and Mr Chishti.

On Sept 5, NAB Rawalpindi filed the reference against seven politicians and officials.

In the reference, NAB contended that the project had faced a delay of two years, one month and 15 days, resulting in a loss of Rs27.3 billion to the national exchequer.

Located in the district of Gujranwala, the project could not be completed and operated on time because the accused failed to issue their legal opinions, NAB contended.

The Supreme Court, it added, had decided a petition filed in 2011 over delays in the project and formed a commission, comprising retired Justice Rehmat Hussain Jafri.

The commission submitted its report on April 9, 2012, according to which these officials and officers of the ministry of law and justice were mainly responsible for the delays. Subsequently, the apex court referred the matter to NAB.

The Nandipur power project was approved by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) on Dec 27, 2007, at a cost of $329 million.

After approval, the contract was signed on Jan 28, 2008, to the Northern Power Generation Company (NPGCL) and the Dong Fang Electric Corporation (DEC), China.

The water and power ministry sought legal opinion on the project from the law ministry in accordance with the schedule of the agreement in July 2009 but the accused repeatedly refused to do so.

Furthermore, the ministry of water and power also failed to take any concrete steps to resolve the issue and the matter remained pending.

According to details shared by NAB, after Mr Awan was replaced as the law minister, the legal opinion was issued on Nov 2011, after more than two years.

This inordinate and mala fide delay caused a huge loss of Rs27bn to the national exchequer.

During the course of investigation, it was established that the accused committed the offense(s) of corruption and corrupt practice as defined in schedule offences of National Accountability Ordinance 1999, said the anti-corruption watchdog.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2018

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