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August 26, 2018

Multi-billion projects: FIA collecting evidence against Shahbaz


August 26, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has embarked upon an extensive exercise to collect evidence against the president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Shahbaz Sharif, pertaining to the three multi-billion-rupee mass transit systems constructed during his recently concluded 10-year stint as Chief Minister of Punjab, The News has learnt.

Sources told this correspondent on Saturday that the FIA launched its investigation following the decision of the Prime Minister Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government to conduct a forensic audit of mass transit systems in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The federal cabinet on Friday ordered the audit of major transport projects in Punjab and hinted at referring the matter to the FIA if any financial irregularity, kickbacks or corruption became apparent.

As Punjab chief minister from 2008 to 2018, Shahbaz Sharif initiated and expedited several projects worth several hundred billions of rupees, including the Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan metro bus mass transit systems.

While in opposition, the PTI frequently accused the then PML-N government of financial irregularities in these projects and ordered the audit soon after assuming power.

The sources said FIA investigators have started collecting evidence regarding companies and contractors involved in these projects, as well as details of estimated and final costs.

Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had also taken suo moto notice of the awarding of all contracts for such mega-projects in Punjab and summoned the heads of involved construction companies.

The Director General of FIA, Bashir Ahmed Memon, and Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry did not respond to requests for comments.

Malik Ahmed Khan, a PML-N politician and former spokesman of Shahbaz Sharif's Punjab administration, condemned the probe into mega-projects expedited by the erstwhile government as an act of political victimisation.

He said all contracts for the projects were awarded to companies after the fulfillment of the legal formalities and no contractor had been unduly favoured.

He said the audits of these projects had previously been conducted by official and external parties, without the discovery of financial impropriety, and were now a closed chapter.

The PML-N would protest against all such acts of political victimisation at every appropriate forum, Ahmed said.

He said the PTI government should save time and money instead of wasting it on a pointless exercise.

However, when contacted, PTI sources, requesting not to be named, opined that if the PML-N government in Punjab had not done anything wrong while executing the projects, they should not be scared of any audit.

They said that there was no political victimisation by holding an audit as the same exercise has also been carried out for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

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