PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal acquitted in Narowal Sports City reference

News Desk
Thursday, Sep 22, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday dismissed the Narowal Sports City corruption reference against federal minister Ahsan Iqbal.

In 2019, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had arrested Iqbal, and later in 2020 an accountability court indicted him. The watchdog alleged the former planning minister misused his authority to illegally enhance the scope of the project. The NAB alleged the sports city project was conceived in line with the instruction of Iqbal without any feasibility in 1999, adding it was initially approved at a cost of Rs34.74 million by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP), which Iqbal headed.

The NAB claimed Iqbal illegally directed the Pakistan Sports Board and NESPAK to increase the project’s scope, enhancing the cost to Rs97.52 million. However, Iqbal had always denied all the allegations levelled against him and also moved the IHC to have the reference against him dismissed.

During the hearing, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah asked the NAB’s prosecutor whether the accountability watchdog had any evidence of corruption against Iqbal. “[Development] on a project, which was being built for the people’s benefit was stopped. Tell me, who is responsible for stopping a project that was for the benefit of the people,” Justice Minallah asked, Geo News reported. The IHC chief justice chided the NAB prosecutor as he was unable to provide evidence of corruption against Iqbal. Justice Minallah added despite the project being of importance to the public, the NAB intervened in the matter. “I have asked you repeatedly to point out the corruption in this project,” the IHC chief justice said.

In response, the NAB’s lawyer said Iqbal’s constituents of Narowal benefited from the project. “So, is it a crime if the citizens benefit from it? Where is the crime? Where is the corruption,” Justice Minallah questioned. He said in line with NAB’s arguments, it seemed that the accountability watchdog had ulterior motives while arresting Iqbal. Apart from the NAB’s prosecutor, the IHC chief justice also slammed the investigation officer for falling short of providing evidence of corruption.

After hearing all the arguments, Justice Minallah dismissed the reference against Iqbal. Later, talking to journalists, the federal minister said the NAB had “admitted that it has no evidence of corruption”.

“This case was filed against [me] solely on the wishes of Imran Khan,” Iqbal said as he berated the former prime minister during whose tenure several opposition leaders were sent to jail. “For several years, a person — Imran Khan— has been repeatedly claiming that all politicians opposing him are thieves. Imran Niazi raised slogans against us and levelled several allegations. Khan has lost his mental balance. He is only happy when he sees us in jail,” Iqbal remarked.

The minister added he was never “frightened” of Khan’s “baseless cases” and held the PTI chairman responsible for the crisis — political and economic — that the country was facing.