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FIA team leaves for Saudi Arabia today;Hajj scam

A general view of the Grand Mosque on the second day of Eid al-AdhaISLAMABAD: A three-member FIA team is leaving for Saudi Arabia on Monday (today) to probe into alleged corruption and mismanagement in Haj affairs this year.

Headed by director for Interpol Pakistan, the team also has two additional directors.

“As the alleged scam involved the arrangements made in Saudi Arabia therefore it is imperative for the agency to send its investigators there to find facts,” a senior FIA official told Dawn on condition of anonymity.

The official said the Saudi government had assured complete cooperation in investigating the scam and promised that it would provide all the evidence gathered by the Saudi investigators looking into the same case.

The team will stay in Saudi Arabia till the completion of the investigation.

The team is being sent to Saudi Arabia on the same day when the FIA will submit its preliminary report on the scam to the Supreme Court.

“It is a preliminary report. So it does not mean that investigations into the matter have been completed,” the official said, without disclosing contents of the report.

On Thursday, the FIA had arrested the joint secretary of the ministry of religious affairs, Raja Aftab, for being allegedly involved in the scam.

However, sources in the ministry said that Mr Aftab had been made a scapegoat to protect key players in corruption of billions of rupees.

Under the Haj policy, the government had agreed to provide accommodation within two kilometres of the holy Kaaba. In the end, accommodation arrangements were made about 3km to 8km away from the holy places.

It appears that hiring of buildings for pilgrims was deliberately delayed till the last moment to benefit certain elements in the business.

The Supreme Court has already ordered arrest of all officials allegedly involved in the fraud, including top officials of the ministry, but no action has been taken so far against Secretary Agha Sarwar Qazilbash and Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi.

The sources said that the FIA investigation team had sought the record of Haj arrangements from the ministry, but top officials had refused to handover the record to the agency.

Mr Aftab’s arrest is the second in the scam as the FIA had already arrested Haj Director General Rao Shakeel who is said to be the in-charge of entire Haj operation.

The Saudi government had also ordered an inquiry into complaints that 20,000 Pakistani pilgrims didn’t get sufficient tents and other facilities in Mina on 8th of Zilhaj.

Minister for Religious Affairs Hamid Saeed Kazmi took an oath in a private TV channel talk show on Wednesday and said: “I am saying before the entire nation that I did nothing wrong in Haj arrangements and that I am not involved in any sort of corruption.”

The involvement of the secretary and the minister could not be ruled out as the arrested DG Haj Rao Shakeel had told Special Judicial Magistrate Islamabad Muhammad Wajid Hussain last week that the real culprit was Secretary Agha Sarwar Qazilbash.

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