NAB asks FIA to halt probe into Broadsheet case

Shahid AslamSpecial Correspondent - Lahore

16th Aug, 2021. 05:50 pm

LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has directed Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to immediately stop their probe into Broadsheet case which also names officials from the bureau amongst the accused for causing a loss of billions of rupees to the national exchequer, Bol News has learnt.

Sources have confirmed that NAB has written a letter to FIA, asking the premier investigation agency to stop the probe until the federal cabinet reconsiders its decision regarding assigning the Broadsheet case to FIA.

It may be mentioned that the federal government in January 2021 had formed a one-man commission led by Justice (retd) Sheikh Azmat Saeed to probe the execution of contract and payments to Broadsheet LLC in connection with investigation into offshore properties of Pakistani politicians. The commission completed the probe in March and submitted its report to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Soon after the report, the federal government had directed FIA to initiate criminal investigations against all the accused, including two former NAB chairmen and officers whose tenure (2011 to 2017) was termed by the commission as the ‘darkest period in the bureau’s history’. “Its officers had shrewdly played their role in closing down Swiss accounts cases by misleading the court,” the commission had observed.

Moreover, the cabinet had allowed criminal proceedings against former law minister Ahmer Bilal Soofi, the then legal consultant of NAB Hassan Saqib Sheikh, ex-deputy director and desk officer of Broadsheet LLC for NAB Ghulam Rasool, former joint secretary of law ministry Abdul Basit, the then deputy high commissioner at the Pakistan High Commission UK Shahid Ali Baig, former director audit and accounts at the Pakistan High Commission UK Tariq Fawad Malik who had introduced Broadsheet to NAB.

Following directions of the federal cabinet, Additional Director General FIA (North) Abu Bakar Khuda Bakhsh was appointed supervisory officer who wrote a letter to chairman NAB, asking him to appoint a focal person to assist FIA into the broadsheet probe.

Taking a strong note of the letter, NAB Headquarters wrote back to the ADG reminding him not to write a letter directly to its chairman. The senior FIA officer was reprimanded for writing the letter to the chairman as he holds the Constitutional post, equivalent to a federal minister.

It was also advised by NAB that in future correspondence, NAB’s coordination wing should be approached. The NAB Headquarters also informed the senior FIA official that the bureau had already given a presentation to the federal government, requesting it to reconsider its decision of sending the broadsheet inquiry matter to FIA. The bureau asked the FIA to stop the probe till the cabinet decided their plea in this regard.

Without sharing much details, senior NAB officials confirmed to Bol News about writing such a letter to FIA. Nawazish Ali, a spokesman of NAB, was approached for comments but he avoided responding to the queries for several days.

On the other hand, FIA officials also confirmed these developments.

“It was shocking for us to see NAB’s letter asking us to stop the probe. The Broadsheet case has been referred to FIA by the federal cabinet itself, so how could NAB ask us to stop the probe?” asked a senior FIA official when approached for comments.

The official further told Bol News that they have written a letter to the cabinet’s federal secretary and informed him about the latest development, seeking fresh advice.

“We are still waiting for a response from the cabinet and will continue the probe as soon as we receive fresh instructions regarding the pending matter.”

Bol News also spoke to three retired director generals of FIA and they were all of the view that FIA has the power to investigate officials of NAB in a corruption case. Seeking anonymity, they told Bol News that FIA Act 1976 empowers it to investigate anyone. They were of the view that since the matter of Broadsheet was forwarded to FIA by the cabinet, NAB had no authority to stop the probe.

It was also learnt that earlier Assistant Director FIA Abid Hussain was appointed as the investigation officer of the Broadsheet case whereas ADG (North) Abubakar Khuda Bakhsh was supervising the probe. Sources said that after Abid’s transfer from FIA Headquarters to Peshawar Zone, Director FIA Sajid Akram has been tasked to lead the investigation team.

The sources disclosed that it was mainly due to the role of the NAB officers that the Swiss cases were closed despite the availability of original record.

Fawad Cahudhry, in an earlier press conference, had stated that ‘criminal liability’ of Qamar Zaman and other high-ups of NAB during that period will be determined.

The minister said that former president Asif Zardari and other leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were acquitted on grounds that NAB didn’t have the original record of the Swiss accounts.

Fawad further said that ‘criminal investigations’ are also being initiated against NAB’s then director general, prosecutor general and others on account of deliberately destroying and concealing evidence.

It was revealed in the commission report that Soofi, the then NAB consultant, had been accused of recommending settlement with both the IAR and the Broadsheet despite having the knowledge that Broadsheet LLC was wound up in 2005. It was stated that the then prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, gave approval for full and final settlement to the IAR and the Broadsheet LLC on May 10, 2007.

Referring to the commission’s report, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had stated that, “Soofi’s criminally negligent role in drafting a settlement agreement for another company, Broadsheet LLC, Colorado, led to the payment of $1.5 million going to the wrong hands of Jerry James.”

The asset recovery firms’ claims against Pakistan were held valid by an arbitration court and later by a United Kingdom high court that gave an award of over $28 million against Pakistan. The federal cabinet had approved payment of $28.7 million in damages to the asset recovery firm.

The commission has held that the proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration and subsequently before High Court of Justice, London, were not conducted diligently and efficiently because the place of arbitration was in Dublin and transferred to London with the consent of NAB, Pakistani counsel, Allen and Overy, did not pursue the matter diligently, and due to the lack of capacity of AG office’s International Dispute Unit.

During its investigation, the commission had summoned 26 witnesses, recorded statements and exhibited attested copies of record. It was also observed that drafting of agreement between NAB and Broadsheet was ‘hijacked’ by the then PGA Farooq Adam Khan who ‘misled’ the NAB chairman, Lt Gen Syed Muhammad Amjad, saying that the approval of the draft had been taken from relevant ministries.

During a six-week inquiry, the commission recorded statements of 26 witnesses, including four former chairpersons of NAB — which included three former three-star generals, namely retired Lt General Mohammad Amjad, Lt General Khalid Maqbool and Lt General Munir Hafeez. The commission also recorded the statement of former NAB chairman Naveed Ahsan. Former and incumbent federal secretaries also testified before the commission.

Broadsheet LLC, a UK company that was registered in the Isle of Man during the Pervez Musharraf era, helped the then government and the newly established NAB track down the foreign assets purchased by Pakistanis through alleged ill-gotten wealth.

Broadsheet claimed that it was established to enter into an Asset Recovery Agreement dated June 20, 2000, and did so with the then president of Pakistan, through the NAB chairman, for the purposes of recovering funds and other assets fraudulently taken from the state and other institutions, including through corrupt practices, and held outside of Pakistan.

After NAB terminated the contract in 2003, Broadsheet and another company involved as a third-party, filed for damages saying Pakistan owed them money according to the terms agreed upon since the government was taking action to confiscate some of the assets they had identified, including the Avenfield property owned by the Sharif family.

 

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