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October 11, 2018

ACE probes Rs170b Punjab projects for evidence against Shahbaz


October 11, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) Punjab has launched a major probe into mega-construction contracts worth Rs170 billion billions of rupees which were expedited during the last 10 years of former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif’s-led PML-N government, The News has learnt.

The probe was launched soon after Hussain Asghar, an additional IG police, assumed charged as the Director General of ACE Punjab a few weeks back.

“We have sought details from the Punjab Planning and Development Department about the mega-contracts awarded during the last decade,” a source, seeking anonymity, told The News.

The official said, initially, details have been sought about the contracts awarded to companies including Zahir Khan and Brothers Pvt Ltd, Habib Construction Services Pvt Ltd, and Reliable Construction Company Pvt Ltd. These companies were awarded more than 100 construction contracts collectively worth around Rs170 billion in Punjab during the last 10 years of Shahbaz Sharif’s rule as CM, he said.

The ACE Punjab would look into any undue favour or illegality committed in the award of mega-projects, including the Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi metro bus services, as well as the Lahore Metro Train, he added.

To a question, he said every probe the ACE initiates is conducted under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and termed as criminal proceedings. “We will register an FIR against the accused person (s) under the CrPC if we found any incriminating evidence during the inquiry process,” he maintained.

A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar is hearing a suo moto case regarding the mega-construction projects awarded to various companies in Punjab by the former PML-N government.

It may also be relevant to mention here that soon after taking oath, Prime Minister Imran Khan, during his first-ever meeting with the head of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), had also shared names of some of the construction companies and asked for a thorough probe.

Citing jurisdiction issues, the FIA head had requested that the matter be referred to the ACE Punjab for jurisdictional reasons. Some senior officials in Islamabad claimed that Hussain Asghar was recommended for the post of DG ACE to the PM by the FIA chief.

Hussain Asghar, officials said, is known in police ranks as an honest and a dutiful officer who has conducted investigations of mega-corruption cases during his career, including the New Islamabad Airport, Hajj scandal, and fake degrees of parliamentarians. When contacted, the DG ACE Punjab Hussain Asghar confirmed to The News that a probe regarding the award of the mega-construction contracts has been initiated.

To a question, the senior police officer said nobody had directed him to conduct the probe and that he was working according to his job description. He said the probe was at very early stage, as the relevant data was still being collected.

It would gain momentum soon after the induction of new officers requested by him from the Punjab government, he said.

Reportedly, a few days back the ACE has retrieved around 2,400 kanals of state land from a senior PML-N leader in Sargodha.

Talking to The News, PML-N spokesperson Maryam Aurangzeb said Shahbaz Sharif had personally assured oversight and transparency on each mega-project, with a focus on cost efficiency to save billions of rupees in expenditure on each project.

“The government is practicing political vengeance under this sham accountability drive,” she claimed. From the way in which the PML-N President was arrested, in violation of parliamentary rules and due processes, it was clear that the PTI government intended to distract the attention of the public away from their failure to govern and fulfill their promises, she said.

These actions are part of that political victimisation and distraction strategy, Maryam Aurangzeb said.

Earlier, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had told The News that the forensic audit of all mega-projects in Punjab would be conducted to ascertain whether or not any illegality or malpractice had been committed by the past rulers.

The minister had said that the PTI Government did not believe in any victimisation of political opponents, but the accountability process would take its course at any cost.

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