–NAB judge approves transit remand of Durrani, tells bureau officials to produce him in Karachi court within three days
–Zardari, Bilawal condemn arrest, say action ‘a challenge to democracy’
ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani from a hotel in Islamabad on Wednesday in a case pertaining to the accumulation of assets beyond known sources of income.
According to details, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stalwart was arrested from Islamabad, not his home province, to avoid confrontation as the speaker moved with a sizeable security team in Sindh.
Following the arrest, the speaker was presented before Accountability Judge Muhammad Bashir for seven-day transit remand.
The judge, however, only agreed to three-day remand and ordered the NAB team to present the accused in a relevant court in Karachi within three days.
Durrani was named in three inquiries in July 2017: accumulation of assets beyond known sources of income; illegal appointments of 352 appointees; the third allegation pertained to the embezzlement of funds for the construction of MPA’s Hostel and construction of new Sindh Assembly building, including the appointment of project directors for the said projects.
The accused, who is also a close friend of PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, allegedly appointed over 15,000 people after taking bribes in Sindh’s Local Government Department during his tenure as a local government minister. The salaries of these employees were also suspended time and again for want of verification, but Durrani always intervened into the matter and got the salaries released, sources confided to Pakistan Today’s Aftab Channa in Karachi.
After 2013 polls, Durrani was made the speaker of Sindh Assembly, where his ‘blue-eyed boy Zulfikar Dahar alias Dhoolo’ allegedly oversaw the assembly, including its finances, sources claimed.
They further claimed that Durrani also appointed Mohammad Haroon, a BPS-5 official, as an officer on special duty (OSD) in violation of rules and regulation. As per sources, Haroon was appointed a junior clerk in 1989 and became a chamber assistant (BPS-11) in 1999. In 2008, Haroon was made a reporter (BPS-16), but he never showed up for work, they added.
The nomenclature of the post of the reporter was changed as OSD and post upgraded from BPS-16 to BPS-17 in March 2013. The sources allege that Haroon wields more power than the Sindh Assembly Secretary Ghulam Umar Farooq Buriro.
Pakistan Today failed to reach Buriro despite multiple attempts.
The bureau’s decision to arrest the Sindh speaker ruffled many feathers, as the PPP top brass termed it an attack on democracy.
Later in the day, NAB conducted a search raid at Durrani’s residence in Karachi. NAB officials, accompanied by heavy contingents and Rangers, cordoned off the residence of Durrani and searched his house for over an hour. Reportedly, Durrani’s family was present in the house when the NAB team raided his house. The anti-graft watchdog team entered the house after showing the search warrants to the family.
‘CHALLENGE TO DEMOCRACY’:
The arrest prompted a press conference from party’s co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, who termed it a “challenge to democracy”.
“A speaker is an autonomous figure, you are challenging democracy when you arrest a speaker,” the former president, adding that nobody should be arrested until the conclusion of a case.
Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari bashed NAB for arresting Durrani, saying that his party would not allow the “benaami wazeer-e-azam to establish a beywardi aamriat (dictatorship)”.
“Attack on [the] speaker of [a] federating unit is unacceptable. [An] undemocratic attempt to dislodge Sindh govt. Failed before will fail again. Independent institutions shouldn’t unwittingly be part of political engineering,” he said on Twitter.
Separately, Barrister Murtaza Wahab, Sindh chief minister’s adviser, slammed NAB, saying that he was unable to comprehend the logic behind the move.
“I have to say this with regret that in Pakistan’s history, this is the first instance of a sitting speaker of the [provincial] assembly has been taken into custody,” he said. “I do not understand its logic, rationale and principles.
Wahab said that even if Durrani’s arrest was unavoidable, then “why weren’t Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, Asad Qaiser, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pervez Khattak also arrested? NAB even filed a reference against Babar Awan and took the matter to the court … was he arrested?
“Aren’t there inquiries against them as well?” he asked. “Don’t form this perception that we are against accountability, but we say that accountability should be across the board.