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Aashiana Housing scandal: Ex-DG LDA Ahad Cheema nabbed

February 22, 2018

LAHORE: In a major development in the backdrop of investigation into various projects in Punjab, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested Quaid-e-Azam Thermal Power (Private) Limited (QATPL) CEO Ahad Khan Cheema from his office on Wednesday.

The former Lahore Development Authority (LDA) DG, a close aide to the Punjab chief minister, was arrested at around 4:30pm from his office located on the MM Alam Road, Gulberg. NAB shifted the accused to its Lahore office at Thokar Niaz Baig in the evening and would produce him before an accountability court on Thursday (today) to obtain his physical remand for further interrogation.

A Grade-19 officer of Pakistan Administrative Service, Cheema was arrested for the ongoing investigation into the affairs of alleged and irregularities in the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) for awarding a contract for the Aashiana-e-Iqbal project.

According to a NAB official, the former DG LDA was arrested after he failed to appear before a combined investigation team (CIT) of the Bureau. He said the CIT had summoned him for the second time on February 16 with all the relevant record regarding the award of the contract, which was entrusted to him by the chief minister, as well as purchase of 32-kanal land situated at Mauza Tedha, Tehsil Cantt, Lahore, but he didn’t show up.

“In our second notice issued on February 12, we had made it clear to Cheema that if he didn’t comply with the notice, he might have to face the consequences as provided in Section 2 of the Schedule of NAO, 1999,” the official said, adding the subject section dealt with those accused who avoid cooperating with NAB or hamper its investigation.

Cheema might face another case on this count as well which entails imprisonment up to 10 years, the NAB official said, adding, besides the PLDC affairs, Cheema was also facing a probe into his assets allegedly beyond known sources of income. Cheema has served on key posts in Punjab even being a junior officer. Among the top slots he held during the last decade or so included secretary higher education department (2009-10), DCO Lahore (2011-12), DG LDA (2012-16, in two terms) and now the incumbent CEO QATPL.

During the tenure of Cheema, LDA completed some of the major projects in Lahore worth billions of rupees, including metro bus, Walton flyover and Azadi Chowk flyover. Former governor Chaudhry Sarwar had decorated Cheema with Tamgha-e-Imtiaz on the eve of Pakistan Day in 2014. The award was conferred upon him by the president of Pakistan in recognition of his outstanding and meritorious services in the field of public service.

The CIT has already recorded the statement of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in the same case last month. Similarly, Fawad Hassan Fawad – former secretary implementation to the Punjab chief minister and the incumbent secretary to the prime minister – has also recorded his statement before the NAB team.

The Bureau, after detecting alleged illegalities/irregularities in the PLDC affairs, had launched the investigation into the agreement signed between the PLDC and M/s Anhui Construction Engineering Group owned by Ali Sajjad, M/s Bismillah Engineering Company owned by Nadeem Zia and M/s Sparco Group for the construction of Ashiana Iqbal project. NAB had received a number of complaints regarding the deal involving 3,000-kanal government land between the PLDC and the above-mentioned companies. Some 6,700 apartments on 1,000 kanals were to be constructed and some 2,000 kanals of the land were to be given to these companies in lieu for construction.

On the other hand, Punjab government spokesperson Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan said the NAB’s decision to arrest Cheema was an overreach of institutional jurisdiction. In a statement, he said there were a number of precedents where NAB did not arrest someone for not appearing before it when summoned. “This rather exceptional step taken by NAB against a senior official has led to unrest in the administrative machinery that runs the province,” he added. Malik said the arrest could be synonymous to unfair treatment of a dutiful and hardworking official. “The consequent turmoil of this decision can adversely affect the performance of the provincial administration and governance,” he warned.

He acknowledged respect for the Bureau, but said the action should not unduly insult and humiliate any individual. Such actions would not deter the Punjab government’s resolve to serve the people, the spokesperson said, adding that the government would continue the mission of the best possible service delivery to the people of the province.

The NAB spokesperson responded to the statement, saying it was an attempt to politicise the arrest. He said the former DG LDA had received gratification in the form of 32 Kanals of land valuing around Rs30 million from owners of Paragon City (Pvt) ltd. He said M/s Bismillah Engineering Co (a major shareholder of JV titled Lahore Casa Developers) was a proxy firm working for M/S Paragon.

The spokesman added that Cheema, along with other accused persons by misusing their authority with criminal intent, processed and awarded the Rs14 billion Aashiana project to Lahore Casa Developers against the law. The spokesperson said enough chance was provided to Cheema for responding to the allegations but he couldn't. The grounds for the arrest were solid enough to nab and present him before an accountability court, he added.