ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is investigating the sitting president of the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) on charges of providing shelter to the main accused in a $185 million fraud case in the bank’s Bangladesh operations, according to official documents.
The anti-graft watchdog has launched investigations against Syed Iqbal Ashraf, along with former NBP president Syed Ali Raza, and half a dozen of the bank’s senior executive vice presidents (SEVPs), the documents showed. In addition to that, NAB is also investigating the affairs of six Bangladeshi nationals.
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The Express Tribune had reported the fraud on January 1, 2014 and after that the matter was taken up by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance that subsequently referred the issue to NAB for further inquiry.
The NAB inquiry has termed Zubair Ahmad, regional chief of Bahrain operations that also included Bangladesh, and QSM Jehanzeb, the general manager, as the main accused. Except Zubair Ahmad, all other Pakistani accused persons had joined the inquiry.
Iqbal Ashraf provided shelter to Zubair and deliberately did not take action against the accused even after the NBP board of directors asked the bank president to do so in May 2013, according to the NAB inquiry. It added that Ashraf also did not act on observations of the State Bank of Pakistan about corruption by Zubair and gave him an opportunity to retire from the bank. SBP gave its observations in April 2015, according to the documents.
Zubair has in the past declined to take responsibility for the mega fraud case. In May 2014, he had told The Express Tribune that Jehanzeb had hidden facts from him for four years.
The main accused persons were also given shelter by the officers of the human resources department, according to the documents. When contacted, the NAB spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.
However, NAB sources said the bureau would take the case to its logical end, saying that those who were ‘criminally silent’ would be equally punished.
In February this year, the NAB executive board had authorised investigations into the conduct of NBP officers who were accused of abusing their powers in the processing and sanctioning of credit limits, wilfully avoiding proper valuation of securities offered by borrowers and causing losses of $185 million to the national exchequer. In August, a NAB official had told the NA panel on finance that the reference against the accused persons would be filed by September but it missed the deadline.
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Questions have also been raised about whether the NBP president should continue to serve after NAB investigations. Finance ministry spokesman Dr Shujaat Ali did not respond to the question despite repeated attempts. The NBP president would complete his three-year term on January 21, 2017.
Meanwhile, SBP said it has “laid down fit and proper test criteria for all senior positions in banks.”
“The mechanism is being applied across the board in the banking industry,” the bank’s chief spokesman Abid Qamar. He was asked to comment about whether Iqbal Ashraf was still eligible to head the country’s largest government-owned bank after the NAB investigations.
Qamar said that if and when any violation of law and fit and proper test criteria is observed, appropriate regulatory action would be taken in light of the applicable laws, rules and regulations. “Mere start of investigation does not render any person ineligible under FPT criteria,” he said.
According to the documents, Zubair Ahmad released securities without any authorisation and without recovery of loans. He did not take notice of abuse of business discretionary powers by Jehanzeb. Zubair failed to notice unauthorised approval of credit facilities despite 21 visits to Bangladesh. The then NBP President, Syed Ali Raza, gave Jehanzeb a chance to attain superannuation even after bad reports about him. The findings noted that Raza miserably failed to implement the bank’s overseas policy through HRM and Overseas Banking Group. When contacted, NBP’s Group Chief Operations and Corporate Communication Division Nausherwan Adil said the bank’s chief had not protected anybody. He said that like everybody who had been named in various inquiries, Zubair Ahmad was also charge-sheeted by NBP.
Meanwhile, Ashraf himself said: “The information that you have is incorrect as NBP is cooperating with NAB since May 2015 to help in its investigation. They have made no accusation as far as I am aware.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2016.
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