LAHORE: Contrary to allegations by the accused in the Haris Steel Mills case against the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the bureau’s probe has traced the sale of the former’s frozen property back to its owners, sources familiar with the case have revealed.
During the case hearing in the Supreme Court on October 22, co-accused Sheikh Afzal’s counsel had claimed NAB and the Bank of Punjab (BoP) sold his client’s property in Dubai for Rs1.5 billion, which he maintained was roughly half its market value. He had requested the court order NAB to probe the matter.
The property, situated in Dubai’s affluent Emirates Hill neighbourhood, had been frozen along with other assets belonging to the accused – which include Sheikh Afzal’s brothers Yaqoob, Munir and Nisar, and his son Haris – after they failed to return a Rs9 billion loan obtained from BoP.
NAB and BoP had also requested UAE authorities to transfer this particular property to the latter. Both parties had also informed the Pakistani Embassy in Dubai and authorities in the UAE to prohibit the sale or transfer of the property. Following these legal formalities, the property had been sealed.
Following the allegations made by Sheikh’s counsel, a NAB team visited Dubai and traced the customer who had purchased the property. During the course of investigation, it came to light that Haris Afzal, despite having his name on the Exit Control List (ECL), visited Dubai and fraudulently sold the frozen property to an Indian national at a throwaway price of Rs450 million, sources told The Express Tribune.
NAB recorded the Indian national’s statement at the Pakistani embassy in Dubai, where he maintained he had no knowledge that the property had been frozen and purchased it since Haris had the proper documentation for its ownership. The NAB team, which is still in Dubai, is currently investigating whether the Rs450 million the Indian national paid for the property have been remitted to Pakistan through legal or illegal channels.
Meanwhile, the bureau has started investigating officials of the Pakistani foreign office in Karachi and the country’s embassy in Dubai who are suspected of attesting and verifying the power of attorney Haris used to sell the property. It has also initiated a probe against officials in the interior ministry and the Federal Investigation Agency’s immigration department who aided Haris in visiting Dubai despite being on the ECL.
Sources privy to the development also revealed that a new case will soon be registered against Sheikh and Haris Afzal, along with others involved in the fraudulent sale. They said the accused will not only be charged with fraud, but with trying to implicate NAB and BoP officials in the case and concealing facts before the country’s apex court.
Rs3.5 billion has so far been recovered from the accused in the Haris Steel Mills case. The next hearing before a three-judge SC bench headed by the chief justice of Pakistan is scheduled for Tuesday. The sources said NAB and BoP will very likely inform the court of these developments at the hearing.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th, 2012.