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June 15, 2019

Punjab forest minister, Faryal arrested

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June 15, 2019

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Friday arrested the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Punjab Minister for Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife Sibtain Khan and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Faryal Talpur in separate cases.

Sibtain Khan was arrested on charges of illegally awarding a multi-billion-dollar contract to an alleged fake company in 2007. As a Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) minister for mines and minerals at that time, he had awarded a contract for extracting minerals in Chiniot district.

Sources said the NAB had closed an inquiry into the said matter in 2013. However, in January 2018, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) advertised the matter in newspapers and requested the NAB chairman to reopen the inquiry and fix responsibility. After that, the NAB Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal issued orders for reopening the inquiry, which led to the arrest of the now PTI minister.

The NAB chairman also gave directives for holding an inquiry against those who had closed the case, despite clear orders from the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, the same case is also being probed by the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE), Punjab, since 2010, but investigation had not been completed yet. The ACE had 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 Dec 2007.

An FIR was registered under sections 471, 468 and 420 of the PPC against seven accused including Sibtain Khan, former provincial secretary Imtiaz Ahmed Cheema, PUNJMIN Secretary Basharatullah, 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 FIR read that PUNJMIN, after spending Rs117.59 million, had discovered 610-million-metric tonnes of iron ore in Chiniot worth $915 billion. With the connivance of PUNJMIN, the ERPL had signed an agreement wherein the government share was agreed at only 20 percent and the company was to get the remaining 80 percent. However, a challan and an inquiry of the case were still pending with the ACE, despite the passage of eight years.

The NAB said in initial findings that the ERPL had no previous experience of mining, even then the minister awarded contract to it. During the probe, it was revealed that no other firm was invited for the bidding process.

The Mines Department was only 20 percent shareholder under the agreement, which made the joint venture totallyillegal. Moreover, the accused never shared details of the agreement and project with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), and kept on running the project, NAB added.

The NAB further said the minister awarded a billion-dollar project to a firm which had a market value of just Rs2.5 million. The accused will be produced before an accountability court today (Saturday) for seeking his physical remand.

Meanwhile, the NAB arrested Faryal Talpur from Islamabad in a case related to money laundering through alleged fake bank accounts. Talpur's arrest comes after her brother, former president and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, was arrested by the anti-graft body earlier this week. On Monday, the Islamabad High Court rejected the two leaders' bail plea in connection to a high-profile case of money laundering allegedly through fake banks accounts. In its orders, the Islamabad High Court allowed the NAB to arrest Zardari and Talpur, both of whom now have the option to appeal the order in the Supreme Court.

The NAB is investigating four cases where the former president and his sister are the prime accused. According to sources, an arrest warrant signed for Faryal Talpur by NAB Chairman Justice (R) Javed Iqbal was handed to NAB Rawalpindi three days ago, following which NAB Rawalpindi constituted a team to arrest the PPP leader.

Officials said NAB will not shift Talpur to their offices but would keep her under custody at her Islamabad residence, which has been declared a sub-jail for this purpose.

The NAB officials have also summoned a team of doctors at the sub-jail to conduct Talpur's medical examination. Twelve lady police personnel have been deployed at Talpur’s residence. The Bureau is expected to present Talpur in an accountability court today (Saturday) to seek her physical remand.

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