LONDON: Former Pakistan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Wajid Shamsul Hassan has claimed that he had returned a cheque worth £437,000 (Rs63.4 million) to Foreign office and recent charges of fraud and misappropriation of secret funds against him are baseless.
However, talking to The News here, former diplomat said he is yet to be contacted by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) about charges of misappropriation of secret funds to the tune of around a million UK pounds.
NAB is investigating the case against Wajid who has been a close aide of former President Asif Ali Zardari on the directions of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The committee in a recent meeting had asked the NAB and the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) to submit reports of recoveries they have made from Wajid within three months.
Wajid said he had returned an amount of £437,000 pounds to Foreign Office in February 1997 and it is for NAB to probe where that money has gone. “The copy of the cheque is also available. I delivered the checque to the chief account officer of the National Bank at the Foreign Office, Islamabad,” he said adding that it was the first incident that the secret fund was returned by someone.
Wajid said he has learnt through media that PAC has asked FIA and NAB to probe the matter but NAB has not officially contacted him so far. He said he was detained in Pakistan in 1997 on similar charges of misappropriation of £200,000
“I was exonerated by the court then too as I produced the receipts of the money paid to the British detectives who were hired to probe the murder of Murtaza Bhutto on the direction of the then government of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto,” Wajid said.
Audit officials told the committee in a meeting in December last year that five cases against the former high commissioner were referred to the NAB and FIA but no record was provided to the audit department for verification.
The Sub-Committee of the PAC on Implementation and Monitoring has taken up audit paras relating to the Ministry of Interior for fiscal year 1996-97. The audit officials told the committee that they had raised objections on a cheque worth 437,000 pounds issued to Wajid but the Foreign Office did not provide any record.
They said another cheque of 200,000 pounds was issued to the former high commissioner in violation of general financial rules. They said 100,000 pounds was withdrawn from Sento funds and another 27,793 pounds from the entertainment allowance but their vouchers were not provided to the audit department.
When asked about the allegations, Wajid said the entertainment allowance is not given without vouchers which were duly provided to the concerned officials at that time. He said Sento fund had been given to the high commissioner by the government and it was used to improve the soft image of Pakistan.
Talking about the audit objection that on September 28, 1996 an aircraft was chartered to attend a conference of the Labour Party of the UK costing 1,486 pounds and these expenses were illegally made as the conference could be attended traveling through staff car, Wajid said the expenses were justified.
“The Labour Party conference was organized to dispel the negative propaganda against Pakistan on issues like child labour and persecution of minorities so I had to attend it. Meanwhile, on the same day Pakistan’s than Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was meeting her British counterpart in London so I had to come back through a charter flight to be present at the key meeting,” he said.
The audit officials told the sub-committee that from April to August in 1996, a payment of more than 700,000 pounds was made to weekly Asia Voice for Pakistan’s projection through 8 cheuqes and it is clear violation of rules.
However, Wajid said the amount approved was £600,000 out of which only £180,000 was paid to the paper in three installments and the rest was returned to the Foreign Office. “I could have given the entire amount to the paper but being a former editor I knew the publication may not be sustainable so only paid part of the amount,” he said.
When contacted, an official of the NAB media department said the case has been referred to the anti-corruption watchdog by the Public Accounts Committee of the parliament. “NAB is investigating the case purely on merit,” he said adding that no further comments could be made as the probe was still going on.
To another question regarding the fate of the original documents concerning the SGS-Cotecna case brought from Geneva to London in 2009, Wajid said all the documents have been sent back to Pakistan and currently they are in NAB’s custody.
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