ISLAMABAD – A local court yesterday sentenced former federal religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi to 16 years in jail in haj corruption scandal.
Special Judge Malik Nazir Ahmad also awarded 40-year imprisonment to Haj Director General Rao Shakeel and 16 years in prison to joint secretary for religious affairs Aftab Aslam. The court also imposed fine to the tune of Rs 147 million on all the three convicts.
Former federal minister Kazmi and former joint secretary Aftab were arrested from the court premises after the court announced their sentence and escorted to Adiala Jail by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials. Former haj DG Shakeel is already in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau in Lahore.The court announced the verdict after completion of cross-examination of 60 witnesses presented by the prosecution last week.
All the three convicts have the right to appeal against the decision before the Islamabad High Court.
Former FIA director and current Additional Inspector General Punjab Hussain Asghar led the investigation team while the final challan (charge sheet) was submitted before the court in 2012 by Ghazanfar Abbas, an FIA investigation officer.
Kazmi, involved in the Hajj corruption scandal, was accused of inflicting huge losses to the national exchequer during his tenure as federal religious affairs minister. A case was registered against him, after which he was arrested on March 15, 2011.
Later, he was indicted on the charge of corruption in the case on May 30, 2012. He, however, pleaded not guilty.
According to the charge sheet, ex-federal minister Kazmi, Haj DG Rao Shakeel and Raja Aftab Aslam were indicted for committing fraud, misuse of authority, cheating and causing losses to the national exchequer and the public at large.
Agencies add: Kazmi was jailed for taking kickbacks while making haj arrangements in Saudi Arabia. He was an influential minister in the government of the Pakistan People’s Party that was in power from 2008-2013. He was charged with hiring substandard buildings to house Pakistani pilgrims in Makkah in 2009, charging exorbitant rents from them and receiving kickbacks.
Announcing the verdict, Special Judge Nazir Ahmad observed the accused were guilty of embezzling money while making arrangements for Haj in 2010.
It was also shown in the court that over 85,000 pilgrims had been forced to pay extra Rs 5,000 to perform haj under the government scheme in 2010. FIA Deputy Director Waseem Ahmad Ranjha and Chaudhry Azhar advocate represented the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) during the proceedings of the case.
It may be mentioned here that the Haj corruption scandal surfaced in 2010 when former minister for science and technology Azam Swati levelled corruption allegations against the then minister for religious affairs Hamid Saeed Kazmi.
As a result of the exchange of accusations between the sitting ministers, the then prime minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani sacked Kazmi and Swati from their offices.
Earlier, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Khalid bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud also wrote a letter in 2010 to then Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, stressing that there was undeniable evidence of corruption on the part of Pakistani Haj officials. The Supreme Court had also taken suo motu notice of the case. Hamid Saeed Kazmi was arrested by the authorities and investigated, but was released on bail in August 2012.
The court had instructed the FIA to prosecute the case in a trial court, directing the government to return the extra amount to Haj pilgrims.
Each year, more than 150,000 Pakistanis performed the haj which is considered a religious obligation for Muslims.
Haj was marred last September by a stampede that killed hundreds of people, including 109 Pakistanis.