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April 20, 2018

Probe into Chiniot mining case incomplete even after eight years


April 20, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The high-profile inquiry into the multi-billion dollar agreement signed for exploration of iron ore deposits in Chiniot couldn’t be completed even after the lapse of eight years, The News has learnt.

On the directions of incumbent Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the ACE started a probe in 2010 into the alleged illegal contract between Earth Resource Private Limited (ERPL) and the Punjab Mineral Development Corporation (PUNJMIN), a company established under the Minerals Department.

Owned by Arshad Waheed, the ERPL Company had entered into a joint venture with the PUNJMIN for exploration of Iron and other minerals in December 2007.

It was stated in the FIR that the PUNJMIN after spending Rs 117.59 million had discovered 610 million metric ton of iron ore in Chiniot worth $915 billion. It further stated that with the connivance of PUNJMIN, the ERPL had signed the agreement wherein the government share was agreed upon at 20 per cent and the company was to get the remaining 80 per cent.

After probing the matter for six years, the ACE registered an FIR 518/10 under sections 471, 468 and 420 of the PPC against seven accused including a sitting PTI MPA and former Punjab minister for mines and minerals Muhammad Sibtain Khan, former provincial secretary Imtiaz Ahmed Cheema, PUNJMIN Secretary Basharat Ullah, PUNJMIN General Manager Muhammad Aslam, Chief Inspector of Mines Mian Abdul Sattar, PUNJMIN Technical Adviser Idrees Rizwani, owner and CEO of ERPL Arshad Waheed and others.

The role of others, if any, was to be determined during the further investigation. “The investigation into the mega fraud and forgery case has almost been completed and we would initiate our next step – arresting all the accused persons as early as possible,” Punjab ACE DG Brig (retd) Muzaffar Ali Ranjha claimed while talking to this correspondent.

The DG said it had been established in the investigation that the accused had managed and prepared a false summery for awarding the contract. “We will arrest everyone involved in the scam very soon,” the DG asserted without giving any timeline.

Responding to a question, the ACE head said as the then caretaker chief minister Justice (retd) Sheikh Ijaz Nisar had approved the summary of the controversial contract, they would chalk out a strategy to interrogate him.

“We might approach the Lahore High Court (LHC) to seek assistance on the issue of the retired justice and his alleged involvement in the case,” he added. Answering another question, the DG said Arshad would be brought back to the country with the help of Interpol. Moreover, he added, the ACE took eight years to complete the probe as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was initially investigating the same matter.

On the other hand, official sources told this correspondent that two of the nominated persons, retired government officials Basharat and Idrees had died already. Similarly, the EPRL owner didn’t join the investigation ever as he had left the country soon after the Punjab government had cancelled the contract in 2008. Arshad didn’t return back to Pakistan from the US afterwards.

Sources further revealed that the anti corruption officials neither nominated the Justice (retd) Sheikh Ijaz Nisar in the FIR nor summoned him for his statement as yet. A former LHC chief justice, Justice (retd) Nisar had served as caretaker chief minister from 19 November 2007 to 11 April 2008.

Former secretary Cheema had prepared a summary on the directions of provincial minister Sibtain, which was subsequently approved by Justice (retd) Sheikh Ijaz in December 2007. It may be relevant to mention that Arshad had approached the LHC against the Shahbaz’s decision but the court endorsed the move and referred the matter to NAB for investigation. Later, the ERPL management approached the Supreme Court which upheld the LHC’s orders.

A couple of years back, the NAB Lahore had closed the case on the ground that the agreement between both the parties was already cancelled before it was referred to the Bureau. Incumbent NAB Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal also ordered the Bureau to reinvestigate the case soon after the Punjab Government through ads highlighted the mega corruption scandal and appealed to him for reinvestigation.

The chairman had said that strict action would be taken if negligence on the part of NAB officials was proved. When contacted, Punjab government spokesperson Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan said the NAB had initiated inquiry on a special request by the chief minister, adding, “We should wait for final report by the Bureau.”

“The anti-corruption policy of the Punjab Government is based on zero tolerance. The Chiniot iron ore project could have proved to be a gold mine for the people of the province in particular and for the nation in general but a few people tried to plunder the national assets, who must be taken to task” Ahmed added.

The spokesperson expressed the hope that the NAB would unearth the factors behind not completing the long pending inquiry and those who were responsible should be tried without any discrimination.

“As for as the Punjab chief minister is concerned, he was the first person who welcomed the opening of inquiry by NAB,” he said, adding that Shahbaz had also questioned the delay in the inquiry by ACE.

Talking to The News on Wednesday, Justice (retd) Sheikh Ijaz said he did not remember whether he had approved any such summary or not. “I don’t remember that I approved or not a summary of the Chiniot mining agreement as around 10 years have passed now,” he said.

“There is a procedure which every chief executive of the province has to follow. A summary is moved by a department and it moves from one office to another before reaching to the CM for the final nod,” he explained.

To a question, the former caretaker chief minister said nobody from the ACE had ever contacted him for his point of view. When contacted, Sibtain said the FIR was a fraud and a political victimisation being a member of the PTI.

He said a caretaker setup was already in place when the agreement concluded in December 2007. “I have been given a clean chit by the investigators, Sibtain claimed. However, he endorsed the fact that the FIR against him was still in place. To a question, the PTI MPA said nobody from ACE or NAB contacted him for his stance.

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