NAB board may tighten noose around Zardari, Shehbaz Sharif and others

NAB EBM likely to approve initiation of inquiry over shutting down of Roosevelt Hotel, NY

ISLAMABAD: The next Executive Board Meeting (EBM) of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is likely to approve the filing of references against former president Asif Ali Zardari and ex-senator Waqar Khan.

It will also take up the matter of initiation of inquiries against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif, who is currently in jail; as well as the closure of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, USA.

According to sources, the EBM of NAB scheduled to meet on March 3, 2021, wherein it would discuss the case of Zardari, which is related to his alleged involvement in a fake account scandal, and Waqar Ahmed Khan over accusations of misuse of powers.

Similarly, the upcoming NAB EBM may decide to launch an inquiry against the incumbent Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz and others over the accusation of misuse of the prime minister’s jet during the years 2014-2018.

As per details, during the complaint verification (CV) process, the NAB has learnt that shutting down of PIA Roosevelt Hotel was made without proper feasibility reports. The potential ulterior motives of this shut down have emerged, and the move can be viewed as a pressure tactic on the government to decide this hotel’s fate due to the heavy annual expenditure of $13 million with no profits at all.

It is pertinent here to mention that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) former senator Raza Rabbani had alleged last month that the government wanted to bring the national airline into a position where other airlines could be provided space to operate by replacing it.

“Is this a conspiracy against the PIA?” he had questioned, alleging that the government wanted to make PIA redundant to fulfil its dream of privatising it. As part of the argument, the opposition had accused that the government planned of selling the PIA hotel at a throwaway price.

However, the government on January 27, 2021, had assured the Senate it had no plans on privatising the hotel.

PIA Roosevelt Hotel is a 19 storey building located in Manhattan’s Midtown. This hotel has remained profitable since its acquisition on lease. The hotel earned huge profits of $7-8 million until 2015 and $3-4 million till 2018.

Roosevelt Hotel had announced to permanently shut its doors on guests from Oct 31, 2020; after which the antigraft watchdog had decided to probe the closure of prime Pakistan International Airlines’ property.

According to a press release issued by the anti-graft agency, its chairperson Justice (r) Javed Iqbal, while taking notice of the closure, had directed the bureau’s Rawalpindi chief to probe the reasons behind the decision to close down the “national asset”.

The property which is valued at more than a billion dollars has been incurring for quite some time now.

At the time, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan had revealed the hotel’s management had taken out a loan of $160 million from JP Morgan Chase, an American investment bank, and was making regular payments from its own revenue stream. The balance outstanding at the moment is $105 million, he had said.

Islamabad High Court (IHC) judge Justice Amir Farooq, while presiding the hearing of a petition against the hotel’s closure in November 2020, had inquired about the government’s plans for the future of the property.

“It is being converted into apartments and offices. The Roosevelt Hotel has its own historical significance [so much so that] US President Donald Trump wants to buy it,” had responded the petitioner’s counsel at the time of the hearing.

The court had observed it had already disposed of a petition regarding the hotel after the federal government’s statement.

Earlier on October 2, Senate Standing Committee on Aviation was told the Roosevelt Hotel was not being sold but would either be renovated or reconstructed in the future.

“Either the Roosevelt Hotel will be renovated or it will be demolished to build a 100-storey building,” PIA chief executive officer Arshad Malik told the panel of the Upper House, which met under the chairmanship of Senator Mushahidullah Khan.

Malik observed that the purpose of reconstructing the hotel was to reduce the expenses and turn it into a profit-making entity.

He had told the body that the current market value of the Roosevelt Hotel assessed by Deloitte was $562 million. At this, Senator Khan pointed out that the value of the hotel had already been assessed as $1,700 million and that it was a profit-making entity a year ago. He asked how it was now going into losses.

Malik replied that since 2015, the property had been making profits and incurring losses as well and added that $105 million were due towards it.

Ahmad Ahmadani
The author is an investigative journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]


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