Zafar Qureshi, the lead investigator of the multi-billion rupee National Insurance Company Ltd (NICL) embezzlement scandal, accused the government of defying Supreme Court orders and obstructing his investigation into the case.
Testifying before the National Assembly commerce committee on Thursday, Qureshi repeated many of the charges he has already made in a progress report he submitted to the Supreme Court on the matter.
He accused the government of deliberately trying to sabotage the investigation, claimed the prosecutors assigned to represent the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) case were incompetent and submitted incomplete paperwork to the courts.
“I have withdrawn the two incompetent prosecutors and sought the permission of the FIA Director General to hire the services of a barrister to fight the case,” he added.
Qureshi also said that the investigation had made no progress over the last four months, since he was suspended from his position at the FIA three times, in defiance of Supreme Court orders.
“I was dissociated from the case on April 18 and after that there is no progress in the case,” said Qureshi to the panel.
The case began in mid-2010, a loss of over Rs5 billion was discovered by the FIA at the state-owned NICL, in four land deals struck by the company’s management allegedly under instructions from several powerful politicians. The NICL was made to buy large amounts of land at exorbitant rates, and often using dubious documentation.
The investigation has since revealed the alleged involvement of Punjab Assembly member Moonis Elahi of the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid (PML-Q) and Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
While the committee appeared to allow Qureshi leeway during his testimony, they adopted a relatively stern line of questioning against some of the other FIA officials who had appeared before the panel on Thursday.
Altaf Hussain, the FIA’s deputy director in Karachi, stated that the government had recovered Rs356 million of the Rs413 million embezzled in the land deal in Karachi, but was nonetheless grilled for his alleged role in trying to conceal the involvement of the commerce minister in the case.
Hussain testified that the land in Karachi was purchased for Rs900 million, about Rs413 million above market rates, based on a land assessment done by Ahmed Associates, a company hired for the task by Commerce Secretary Zafar Mehmood and Trade Development Authority CEO Tariq Puri, in violation of rules set out by the State Bank of Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2011.