Islamabad: Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), on Saturday got a ten-day physical remand of Sibtain Khan, the Punjab minister for Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, over corruption charges.
NAB prosecutor had requested 15-day physical remand, but the Accountability Court directed the NAB to produce the accused after ten days.
Immediately after his arrest during an inquiry by the NAB on Friday, Sibtain Khan tendered his resignation to Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Khan Buzdar.
According to NAB, the minister was taken into custody over charges of corruption and illegal award of contracts.
Such act of the minister caused the national exchequer a loss of billions of rupees, the NAB claims.
The corruption case pertains to his tenure in 2007 when Sibtain was the Punjab minister for Mines and Minerals and according to NAB documents he awarded an illegal multi-billion rupee contract to Earth Resource Pvt Ltd for 500 metric tonnes of iron ore in Rajwah and Chiniot.
The anti-corruption watchdog said the contract was awarded despite the fact that the company had no previous experience in mining and this was done with the help of other suspects.
Punjab Mines Department also confirmed that no other company was considered during the bidding process. The mines department had only contributed 20 per cent to the said project, thus making the joint venture illegal, NAB added.
Suspects in the case blamed Sibtain for selling minerals worth billions of rupees for just Rs2.5 million (Dh60,000).
The document further states that the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) was kept in the dark about the whole project.
On Saturday, while seeking his remand, the NAB prosecutor told the Accountability Court judge that Sibtain’s ministry issued tenders illegally and without following PPRA rules.
The arrest of a Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaaf (PTI) minister by NAB is believed to be the corruption watchdog’s first such action against the PTI in recent weeks. Pakistan’s main opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — have been accusing the NAB of political victimisation and of moving only against the opposition parties.
During the current week, NAB arrested former president and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and Opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif — all belonging to the PPP and the PML-N.
According to independent analysts, the arrest of a sitting Punjab minister will lend some credibility to NAB actions. Sibtain is from Prime Minister Imran Khan’s home constituency, Mianwali. In 2007, as member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), he had held the provincial ministry for Natural Resources.