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Land Scam: SC summons former minister

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has summoned former railways minister and PML-Q Senator Javed Ashraf Qazi and retired senior army officers who have been accused in a petition of being involved in the Rs50 billion Royal Palm Golf and Country Club land scam.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Ghulam Rabbani and Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday on Thursday admitted for regular hearing the petition jointly filed by former minister of state for railways Ishaq Khan Khakwani and founding member of the PPP Dr Mobashir Hassan. The fresh hearing will be on Jan 31.

The petitioners have alleged that 141 acres of land was leased out to Hussain Construction Company during the Musharraf government in a non-transparent manner and flagrant violation of the settled principles, causing a loss of Rs50 billion to the national exchequer.

The court asked the company, which operates the elitist club in the heart of Lahore, to submit a report within 10 days disclosing the names of investors, sponsors and shareholders of the project.

The railways board has been asked to submit the record of transaction between the railways and the lessee and particulars of the officers involved.

“Prima facie we are of the opinion that a number of questions of public importance as well as fundamental rights in terms of property, security and national interests are involved,” the bench observed.

Lt-Gen (retd) Javed Ashraf Qazi has been directed to submit a suitable reply to the allegations levelled by the petition against him. He was railways minister when the deal was struck. Former railways chairman Lt-Col (retd) Saeeduz Zafar and senior officers Maj-Gen (retd) Hamid Hassan Butt and Khurshid Alam have also been asked to submit their replies.

“Their absence in the court will deem to be considered as if they have nothing to rebut the allegations,” the order said.

Advocate Allah Nawaz, the counsel for the petitioners, informed the court that the land belonged to the railways. Initially, 102 acres were leased out to the company, but it was increased to 141 acres after negotiations. The lease period was also enhanced from 33 years to 49 years in the final agreement.

He said that after criticism and concerns expressed by different quarters, the present parliament had constituted a special committee which came out with certain recommendations, but so far no action had been taken.

A news item in an English daily alleged that recommendations of the National Assembly`s special committee had been put on hold.

Journalist Rauf Klasra, who appeared before the bench, said he believed that the size of the scam was Rs25 billion which had now swelled to Rs50 billion.

He recalled that in 2001 then chairman of the Public Accounts Committee H.U. Beg had taken up the issue of contract awarded in a dubious manner to a consortium of Malaysian developers and Hussain Construction Company.

Initially, Lt-Col Saeeduz Zafar, the then chairman of railways, had refused to provide details of the contract to the PAC, but later submitted it after getting an assurance that information would not be made public.

In 2004, the then secretary of railways, Shakil Durrani, had appeared before a sub-committee of the PAC, headed by Malik Allahyar, but findings of the committee remained inconclusive.

The present parliament took up the matter and a 20-member special committee, headed by Nazar Afzal Chandio, was set up by Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza. The committee in its report submitted on Aug 26 last year suggested that properties of the people involved in the scandal, including Javed Ashraf Qazi, Saeeduz Zafar, Hamid Hassan Butt and Khurshid Alam, be auctioned to meet the losses.

Rauf Klasra said that recommendations of the committee had been ignored because Mr Qazi was a sitting PML-Q parliamentarian and he was believed to have requested the PPP government not to proceed with the matter.

Additional Secretary of the National Assembly Munawar Abbas admitted that a report on the matter had been finalised by the committee, but it was never presented in the assembly.

The court asked the chairman and secretary of railways to submit the report of the Auditor General Pakistan Revenues in addition to details of criminal cases registered if any or pending with any court. “If not then explanation be given why the issue was not taken up seriously,” it said.

The director general of services and member finance railways are also required to submit any valuable information which they consider necessary for assistance in the case.

The establishment division is required to submit details of the officers deputed at the time when the deal was made. Senior members of the Board of Revenue have been asked to submit details of the land indicating its ownership. The director general (audit) of railways is required to submit the audit report.

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