The Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) has given a clean chit to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and federal cabinet members in the Rawalpindi Ring Road corruption scandal.
In its report submitted to Prime Minister Imran Khan, the ACE has found three bureaucrats -- former Rawalpindi commissioner Muhammad Mehmood, ex-deputy project director Muhammad Abdullah and land acquisition collector Waseem Ali Tabish -- guilty of corruption, misuse of authority and conflict of interests. The three men have been booked.
“Mehmood and Tabish are already behind bars,” Punjab ACE DG Gohar Nafees said at a news conference.
“The findings of the ACE are based on an inquiry team analysing 21,000 documents and interrogating 100 officers,” the official added.
Read more: Ring Road corruption probe hits snag
Two members of the federal cabinet, former special former special assistant to the PM Zulfiqar Bukhari and Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar, as well as CM Buzdar were being linked to the scandal by the opposition and a few media reports.
They alleged that ACE inquiries were meant to give a clean chit to political bigwigs while sacrificing pawns.
Nafees denied these allegations. On the question if the ACE inquiry was politically influenced, the official responded in the negative.
“It is for the first time in the history that the Punjab ACE has arrested an officer of the rank of commissioner,” he said.
The ACE asserted that the accused persons had made the decision of “illegal alignment, compensations, awards etc” without the approval of any higher authorities.
It claimed that it had found evidence that alignments were changed to benefit housing societies.
The ACE also alleged that the accused persons had inflicted a loss of billions of rupees to the national exchequer through the illegal alignments.
Also read: Ring roads, bureaucrats and investment
The inquiry report, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, read: “No separate meeting with the Punjab CM was held for the finalisation of the route alignment for R3 project as decided in the 3rd PSC [project steering committee] and 3rd PPP [public-private partnership] P&M Board meetings held on 24.06.2020 and 03.07.2020 respectively.”
It further stated that Muhammad Mehmood as project director and deputy director Mohammad Abdullah had unilaterally decided to execute the project in PPP mode in the 9th PRM meeting held on February 15, 2020.
“He (ex-PD) further misquoted that all top management is on board on this issue. The documentary proof does not support his claim. It is evident from record that he was taking decisions on his own and later on tried to get the nod of higher fora by concealing the facts,” the report read.
The accused persons also did not take approval from any other competent authorities for the alignment.
“As per the decisions of CDA [Capital Development Authority], the case to seek approval of the federal cabinet to align Ring Road with the sectoral limits of ICT in relaxation of approved [the] master plan of Islamabad by RDA was never processed and forwarded to HUD&PHE Department. [The] NOC from NHA for use of CPEC route was not secured. This was basic pre-requisite and project was advertised without NOC.”
Besides misuse and transgression of authority, the ACE has found the accused persons guilty of corruption. ACE investigators suggest that the accused persons through the change in design, map or route of Rawalpindi Ring Road had benefited certain housing societies.
However, the report was silent on whether or not the ACE had found any evidence of receiving of gratification in money or other form in return of their favours to real estate interest groups against the accused persons.
“[The] Ex-PD and DPD directed NESPAK to review design and provided local access at three interchanges for the benefit of upcoming housing societies. They also added “Nekrali Interchange” in [the] design despite the fact that it is 9km away from populated area. These changes were got incorporated in design by the PD to seek undue benefits from the housing societies.”
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