ISLAMABAD: A special court hearing the Hajj corruption case has sentenced former religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi to 16 years in prison. His two ministry lieutenants have been also jailed for massive irregularities during Hajj operations between 2009 and 2012.
Judge Malik Nazir Ahmad also imposed a fine of around Rs147 million on each convict, who will have to serve additional two years in jail on failure to pay the penalty.
Along with Kazmi, former joint secretary Raja Aftabul Islam was sentenced to 16 years in prison while ex-Hajj director-general Rao Shakeel was sentenced to 40 years in jail on additional charges.
“The accused persons have set the worst example of corruption and in order to extort money through illegal means invented quite a different scheme of defrauding the pilgrims,” the judge stated.
The judgment also noted the accused not only caused losses to public exchequer but created hardships for the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.
All three accused, who were earlier released on bail, were arrested from the court premises after the judgment was pronounced. They were taken to Adiala Jail for serving out the sentences. The convicts said they would appeal the decision in a high court.
The scandal had surfaced in 2010 after then science and technology minister Azam Khan Swati, accused Kazmi of corruption in Hajj affairs.
According to the charge-sheet, the men were indicted for fraud, cheating, misuse of authority and causing losses to the exchequer and the public at large. The men were also accused of hiring a substandard building on an exorbitant rent for housing the pilgrims in Makkah and receiving kickbacks as well.
As Shakeel has been charged under PPC sections 420, 468 and 471, he will have to serve two years imprisonment in case of failure to pay the fine of Rs1 million on each count. The two others have also been slapped with an additional fine of Rs1 million under the PCA section.
Since the sentences will run concurrently, the convicts will only serve a total sentence of six years provided they pay the fine.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2016.