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Ballooning to billions: Finally, NAB orders investigation against minister brothers

By Umar Cheema
January 28, 2020

ISLAMABAD: After remaining indecisive for more than a year, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has ordered formal investigation into the allegations against Federal Minister for Planning Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar and his brother, Punjab Finance Minister Hashim Jawan Bakht whose assets have “ballooned to billions of rupees.” The decision was taken in the NAB’s Executive Board meeting held on January 16, said an official privy to the development. The spokesman for NAB promised to respond after checking but later avoided receiving call when tried a multiple times by The News. Khusro didn’t respond either when repeatedly called for his comments. A text message to him also remained unanswered.

Ahsan Abid Advocate, complainant against both minister-brothers, said a NAB officer who spoke on behalf of chairman informed him during a meeting late Friday that the case has been converted into investigation. He had filed complaint in 2018. In September that year, the NAB headquarters had referred this complaint for verification to NAB Multan which after three-month inquiry testified the allegations and reported back to the headquarters that the complaint is credible enough for conversion into proper investigation wherein the ministers could be summoned for detailed probe.

The headquarters didn’t seem to be in haste notwithstanding the fact that the complainant moved the Lahore High Court (LHC) in May 2019 praying the case be concluded on time and merit as is being done against the opposition politicians. The court subsequently put the NAB on notice but it remained indecisive until recently. It has been learnt that a couple of NAB notices were issued to the minister; the last one in August 2019. The minister would send them to some dignitaries close to NAB asking them to make Bureau understand not to commit any mischief. What triggered the NAB’s decision of launching investigation right now remains unexplained.

A source close to the minister termed the NAB investigation baseless and politically motivated. He said Makhdoom family would provide each and every detail to establish that the assets it amassed aren't ill-gotten and have rather been procured through bonafide sources. He said that the whole affair will be crystal clear after the investigation is completed.

As per complaint verification report of NAB Multan submitted in December 2018, the ministers’ family did a roaring investment in six years of the last decade. It set up four sugar mills, five power generation companies, four trading companies including one in London, one ethonal manufacturing company and two others. “Their agricultural property increased from 5,702 kanals (712 acres) to 7,780 kanals (972 acres) meaning thereby an increase of 2,078 kanals (260 acres) in short span, along with 6-7 residential houses and plots in different cities,” according to complaint verification report sent by the regional office to the NAB headquarters.

A couple of properties that Khusro purchased in his name in DHA Lahore were not declared in the nomination papers, according to this report which further reveals that the “family received a foreign remittance of approx. Rs979 million during 2011-2018.” Current market value of the assets of the minister’s family (who live in a joint family setting) is more than Rs100 billion, the report of NAB Multan had revealed.

How did this land-owning family jump into the club of top industrialists remains a mystery. No bank loan was taken for building this empire, the investigators concluded who noted in the report that further assets could be traced if an inquiry was ordered and the accused were investigated. What has been found so far is on the basis of corporate record, tax declarations, revenue documents, banking information and travel history.

The minister himself is a frequent foreign traveller. In the last five years alone, Khusro went abroad for as many as 189 times which means more than thrice a month. What he does there will remain unknown until he is taken into custody for investigation. His number of brothers varies in different records. Nadra data shows the minister has only one brother (who is now a provincial minister), whereas the land record suggests he has two brothers.

The rise of this family has been explained in the following lines in the NAB’s complaint verification report: “From 2006, the family’s assets suddenly showed unnatural increase. An agricultural family from ‘no-where’ became industrialist and started investing amount beyond there known sources of income in corporate sector.” In the business details, sugar mills merited top mention. They are four. In each case, the minister’s mother and brother are shareholders.

One of them set up in 2006 has authorised capital of Rs1 billion. The minister’s mother and brother are its shareholders. Another set up in 2007 has an authorised capital of Rs2 billion; again the minister’s mother and brother (and his wife) are shareholders. Third one was started in 2016; the last one’s founding date is not mentioned. This brother running the sugar mills didn’t figure in Nadra record when investigators checked.

The minister has declared investment of Rs130 million in one sugar mill. He “seems to have a Benami share” in other mills run by the family. “The whole family lives in a joint family system which is evident from their single residential addresses,” reads the NAB report which has also given addresses.

The four trading companies are in the name of the minister’s brother; one of them was set up in London. Five power generation companies are also in the name of the minister’s brother who appears in Nadra record as his brother. Hashim Jawan Bakhat owns an ethanol manufacturing company.

As for as the land purchase is concerned, the investigations revealed a total of 260 acres increase in agriculture land since 2004 in addition to 126 acres purchased for one sugar mill. Out of it, the minister himself got 216 acres “through a mutation of tamleek from his mother and she got that land by way of tamleek from her mother (the minister’s grandmother) and she got it by way of tamleek from her two daughters” who inherited impugned land after death of their father (the minister’s grandfather).

“Most of these alienation of tamleek took place on the same day and as I see an increase in the assets of subject’s (minister) maternal aunt in proceeding years as one of them purchased vehicles worth Rs16 million,” wrote the investigator in the report sent to NAB headquarters. He further notes: “The whole transaction seems dubious and need a thorough probe as apparently it seems that a process of ‘layering’ has been adopted to hide the original beneficiary.”

Regarding the undeclared plots of the minister, the investigation report reads: “It is also pertinent to mention here that 269 kanals agricultural land purchased at…… 1991, 36 kanals in…….2015 and 02 plots measuring 05 marlas each purchased at DHA Lahore in November 2017 were not declared by subject person (the minister) in nomination papers submitted for contesting election 2018.” As many as 12 urban properties of the family purchased after 2004 are situated in DHAs of Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi in addition to Gulberg and Lahore Cantt.

Regarding the foreign remittances, the “FBR statements of the family including subject person shows inflow of foreign remittances after 2011 which shows that this family has invested and can have properties abroad,” reads the report. The total amounts received through remittances is Rs797 millions of which Rs9 million landed into the minister’s account. The foreign company owned by the minister’s brother has declared assets of Rs1.06 billion in 2018 FBR statement in addition to bank accounts in City Bank New York and Emirates NBA Dubai.

In its concluding page, the report says that prior to his joining of national politics, the whole family including the minister’s brothers only owned lands “which was the only source of bread and butter” and after induction into the cabinet in 2004, “assets in the name of non-public office holder members of the subject’s family i.e. mother (house wife), brother having agriculture as the only one source of income ballooned to billions of rupees, despite their expenditure on more than 100 foreign trips, contesting elections.”