Pakistan PM asks SC to form panel to probe graft in power projects

Over accusations that government is trying to influence probe into corruption in setting up of power projects, PM Raja Pervez Ashraf asked Pakistan`s Supreme Court to form an independent commission.

Updated: Mar 08, 2013, 23:56 PM IST

Islamabad: In a bid to address accusations that the government is trying to influence a probe into corruption in the setting up of power projects, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Friday asked Pakistan`s Supreme Court to form an independent commission to investigate the issue.
In a letter addressed to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Ashraf suggested that the probe into alleged graft in the power projects should be taken away from the National Accountability Bureau and entrusted to a commission headed by Federal Tax Ombudsman Shoaib Suddle.

The apex court is investigating alleged corruption in the clearing of "rental power projects", which were launched by the Pakistan People`s Party-led government to overcome the country`s crippling energy crisis.

The allegations against Ashraf date back to his tenure as Power Minister, when he was nicknamed "Raja Rental".

In March last year, the Supreme Court had directed NAB, Pakistan`s main anti-corruption agency, to take action against Ashraf and over 20 other suspects for alleged graft.

In January, the apex court directed NAB to arrest Ashraf and the other suspects but the agency`s Chairman, Fasih Bokhari, said he did not have evidence to make arrests.

Ashraf said he was writing the letter to the Chief Justice "in his capacity both as a citizen of Pakistan and as Prime Minister".

He pointed out that he had appeared before the Supreme Court some time ago in a contempt of court case to "demonstrate publicly that I was not above the law".

Ashraf noted that the mysterious death of a NAB official who was probing the rental power projects had created "a lingering suspicion" that the government is "perhaps exerting undue pressure on NAB....In order to save influential people from possible prosecution".

He said he had been asking NAB to "act fairly, evenly and justly in every case" but "no amount of effort on my part will suffice to change the negative image".

Noting that the Supreme Court itself had expressed doubts about the "competence, fairness and professionalism of NAB", Ashraf said the probe should be taken away from the agency and handed over to a commission headed by Shoaib Suddle, a former head of the Intelligence Bureau.

"I therefore request you to establish a commission headed by Dr Suddle and consisting of any other member(s) the Hon`ble Supreme Court may like to appoint, to investigate this matter justly, fairly and professionally, and report within a specified time frame," said the premier`s letter, which was released to the media.

The premier said he had been compelled to make the request to the apex court because "a totally unwarranted and unending smear campaign has been unleashed against me and my family by certain vested interests".

Under the Constitution, he said, "all citizens are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of law".

Ashraf acknowledged that the government`s policy on rental power projects "may not have turned out to be as robust and effective as its planners had expected it to be".

He said he had only acted in the best interest of Pakistan to solve the country`s chronic electricity shortage.