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June 16, 2019

Illegal award of mining contract: Sibtain resigns as minister, handed over to NAB for 10 days

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June 16, 2019

LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Punjab Minister for Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife Muhammad Sibtain Khan, who is facing National Accountability Bureau (NAB) charges of awarding an illegal mining contract, resigned from his office on Saturday.

He announced his resignation when he was produced before an accountability court by NAB for obtaining his physical remand. His resignation was accepted immediately, according to official sources. The minister was arrested by NAB on Friday over the charges of awarding a multibillion-dollar contract illegally to an alleged fake company for extracting minerals in Chiniot as a Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid minister for mines and minerals in 2007. NAB officials produced the accused before a court and sought his 15-day physical remand to carry out investigation. The prosecutor read the grounds for the arrest before the court, saying the accused awarded contract to the Earth Resources Private Limited (ERPL) illegally in 2007. The ERPL had no previous experience of mining; even then the minister awarded contract to the firm, said the prosecutor. He stated no other firm was invited for the bidding process, which made the whole process illegal.

The prosecutor further said that the Punjab Mines Department was only 20 per cent shareholder under the agreement, which made the joint venture illegal. 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. NAB further alleged the minister awarded contract worth billions of dollars to a firm which had a market value of just Rs2.5 million. He implored the court to grant physical remand of the accused to investigate the matter further and to identify the co-accused. On the other hand, counsel for Sibtain Khan argued that the joint venture under discussion was not done by his client. He stated that no document bore signatures of his client. Moreover, his client remained minister for mines and minerals till Nov 2007, while the joint venture between the government and the ERPL was signed in 2008. He argued that the joint venture was approved by then chief minister Punjab, but NAB did not arrest any other person in the case. He claimed that a report was submitted to the Lahore High Court in which NAB had stated that the said agreement did not cause loss to the national kitty. Moreover, NAB informed the court that as no offence had occurred, it had closed the inquiry.

The counsel alleged that the bureau arrested his client illegally after five years of closure of the inquiry. The counsel added that the Anti-Corruption Establishment also conducted an inquiry into the matter, but closed it. If the inquiry was closed against the rules, then the then NAB chairman should also be brought to the book, the counsel added. The NAB prosecutor intervened and argued that the counsel for the accused was wrongly interpreting the Lahore High Court (LHC) judgment. He said it was a matter of misuse of authority.

The PTI leader Sibtain Khan also spoke in the court and said as the minister concerned he had received an application, which he forwarded to the Planning and Development department. The department forwarded the application to chief minister’s office as per the procedure. And when the CM office gave approval for the joint venture, he was no more a minister, he added. “I have no role in the said venture and I had not secured bail from any forum because I know that I am innocent,” he told the court. The court, after hearing arguments of both parties, remanded the accused for 10 days in NAB custody, directing it to produce him before the court on June 25.

As per the case details, NAB is probing an alleged illegal contract between the 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 PUNJMIN for exploration of iron and other minerals in Dec 2007. PUNJMIN, after spending Rs117.59 million, had discovered 610 million metric tonnes of iron ore in Chiniot worth $915 billion. As per the agreement, the government share was agreed upon at only 20 per cent and the company was to get the remaining 80 per cent.

An FIR about the matter was registered with the ACE under sections 471, 468 and 420 of the PPC against seven accused including Sibtain Khan, former provincial secretary Imtiaz Ahmed Cheema, PUNJMIN Secretary Basharatullah, PUNJMIN General Manager Muhammad Aslam, Chief Inspector of Mines Mian Abdul Sattar, Technical Adviser Idrees Rizwani, owner and CEO of ERPL Arshad Waheed and others.

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