IHC dismisses NAB’s Narowal Sports City reference against Ahsan Iqbal

Arfa Feroz Zake
Thursday, Sep 22, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday dismissed the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) Narowal Sports City corruption reference against Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal.

In 2019, the anti-corruption watchdog arrested Ahsan Iqbal and later, in 2020, an accountability court indicted him. The watchdog alleged that the minister for planning, development, and special initiatives misused his authority to illegally enhance the scope of project from Rs34.75 million to Rs2,994 million approximately.

NAB alleged the sports city project was conceived in line with the instruction of Ahsan Iqbal without any feasibility in 1999. It was initially approved at a cost of Rs34.74 million by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP), which Iqbal headed.

NAB claimed that Iqbal illegally directed the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) 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 by the watchdog and also moved Islamabad court to have the reference against him dismissed.

During Wednesday’s hearing, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah asked NAB’s prosecutor whether the accountability watchdog had any evidence of corruption against Iqbal. “Development on a project, which was being built for people’s benefit was stopped. Tell me, who is responsible for stopping a project that was for the benefit of people?”

The IHC CJ chided the NAB prosecutor as he was unable to provide evidence of corruption against Iqbal. Justice Minallah added that despite the project being of importance to the public, NAB intervened. “I have asked you repeatedly to point out the corruption in this project,” the IHC CJ said.

In response, NAB’s lawyer said that Iqbal’s constituents of Narowal benefited from the project. “So, is it a crime if citizens benefit from it? Where is the crime? Where is the corruption?” Justice Minallah questioned.

Justice Minallah said that in line with NAB’s arguments, it seems that the accountability watchdog had ulterior motives while arresting the planning minister. Apart from NAB’s prosecutor, the IHC CJ also slammed the Investigation Officer (IO) for falling short of providing evidence of corruption.

After hearing all the arguments, the IHC CJ dismissed the reference against Iqbal. Talking to journalists after the dismissal of the reference, the planning minister said that 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.

The planning minister said that for several years, a person, Imran, has been repeatedly claiming that all politicians opposing him are thieves. “Imran Niazi raised slogans against us and levelled several allegations. Imran Khan has lost his mental balance. Imran Khan is only happy when he sees us in jail.” Iqbal added that he was never “frightened” of Imran’s baseless cases and held the PTI chairman responsible for the crisis — political and economic — the country was facing.