ISLAMABAD    -    The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Wednesday accepted Federal Min­ister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal’s petition challenging Ac­countability Court’s verdict of reject­ing his petition seeking acquittal in a reference and exonerated him from the corruption charges.

A division bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Saman Rafat Imtiaz conducted hearing of the peti­tion moved by Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) leader.

During the hearing, Ahsan’s counsel adopted the stance be­fore the bench that the refer­ence was based on allegations and contrary to the facts and re­quested the court to declare ac­countability court’s verdict as null and void.

The IHC Chief Justice re­marked that the case was a clas­sic example of political engi­neering and the NAB damaged the project by halting it for so many years. The judge asked from the NAB prosecutor that if it was the NAB’s responsibil­ity to keep a check on the gov­ernment.

Justice Athar said that the NAB filed a reference based on a news item published in some unknown newspaper and asked that did the NAB even know what the allegations mentioned in the news item.

The court questioned that if all the 30 people working in the CDWP were involved in the corruption and if yes, then why only Ahsan Iqbal was ar­rested? The NAB asserted that Iqbal illegally directed the Pa­kistan Sports Board (PSB) and NESPAK to increase the proj­ect’s scope, enhancing the cost to Rs97.52 million.

The prosecutor then informed the court that the project was a provincial matter after the 18th Amendment and it was then transferred to the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (MIPC). The court asked that was Ahsan Iqbal heading the MIPC? To this, the NAB prosecu­tor said that Iqbal was the min­ister for planning. Then what authority did Ahsan Iqbal mis­use, asked the bench.

Justice Athar remarked that you have no clue how the gov­ernment works. He added that tell the court of a single corrup­tion allegation in all this. He con­tinued that if you talk of losses then it is you who caused them by stopping the project and by this logic, you should have filed a case against yourself.

The NAB prosecutor urged the court to grant them time to review the reference in light of the recent amendments to the NAB laws. He added that the NAB additional prosecutor gen­eral would present arguments if they were given more time.

The IHC CJ remarked that they have already given more than enough time to NAB and or­dered to acquit Ahsan Iqbal in this matter.

In his appeal, the PML-N lead­er challenged dismissal of his acquittal plea by the account­ability court in the Narowal Sports City Complex reference. He moved the court through his counsel Syed Zulfiqar Ab­bas Naqvi and cited Chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and judge Accountability Court (AC) – III Islamabad as re­spondents.

The petitioner stated that he filed the being aggrieved by the order dated 23.02.2022 passed by the Accountability Court No. III Islamabad, whereby the ap­plication filed under Section 265-K, Code of Criminal Pro­cedure Cr.P.C for his acquit­tal in NAB Reference related to Narowal Sports City Complex reference.

Ahsan Iqbal, in his petition, stated that Article 164 of the Constitution authorized the Federal Government to release funds for a provincial project. The Narowal Sports City Com­plex project was initiated with the approval of Federal Cabinet, he added. He said that the NAB reference was based on fabri­cated allegations and against the facts. He informed the court that in November 2020, the Chairman, National Account­ability Bureau, Islamabad, filed the NAB Reference before the Accountability Court No. III, Is­lamabad, pursuant to which the petitioner was charged by the Accountability Court under Sec­tion 9(a) (vi)(xii) and Schedule 5 (the “Charge Sheet”) of the National Accountability Ordi­nance, 1999 (the “NA0,1999”).

He adopted the stance that the NAB Reference and the Charge Sheet essentially revolves around a public-welfare sports infrastructure and facilities project named “Narowal Sports City” developed in Narowal Dis­trict, Punjab.

Ahsan contended that in the light of the fact that no incrim­inating evidence was available which is a sine-qua non require­ment of establishing the charge under Section 9 (a)(vi)(xii) of the NA0,1999 and there be­ing no allegations pertaining to personal benefit or financial gains attributed to the petition­er, an application under Section. 265-K of the Cr.P.C, for acquittal of the petitioner was filed be­fore the Accountability Court, No. III, Islamabad. However, the court rejected the said appli­cation without consideration of the admitted facts on record and the law.

He added that the NAB Refer­ence and the Charge Sheet read with the material placed on re­cord by the prosecution do not even complete the ingredients of an offence in fact and law. Hence, the Petitioner is entitled to acquittal.

The petitioner further said that the NAB Reference and the charge sheet attempt to crim­inalize actions and decisions which were duly sanctioned by and taken pursuant to the rele­vant Constitutional provisions. He added that Article 164 of the Constitution expressly empow­ers the Federal Government to spend funds on a provincial project, and the said practice is a norm in the governance sys­tem of Pakistan.

He argued that the NAB Ref­erence and the Charge Sheet at­tempt to criminalize actions and decisions which were duly sanc­tioned by and taken pursuant to Rules of Business of the Federal Government. He added that the functions of the Planning Com­mission as stated in the Sched­ule-ll of Rules of Business, Man­ual for Ministry of Planning, Development Reforms empow­ers the Ministry to monitor and evaluate the implementa­tion of major development proj­ects and programme, stimulate preparation of sound projects in regions and sectors lacking an adequate portfolio.

Ahsan continued that the Proj­ect at all times and stages re­ceived approvals from all com­petent forums including CDWP, NEC, the Federal Cabinet and the National Assembly of Paki­stan, as part of the PSDP/devel­opment budget, and neither the Petitioner was empowered not at any time or stage he individu­ally or singly approved the Proj­ect while the NAB Reference and the Charge Sheet admits all the approvals and fails to pro­duce any material to allege let alone prove that the Petitioner singly or individually approved the Project.