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    South Asia
     Jan 26, 2013


Death raises pressure on Zardari
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider

KARACHI - Less than 10 days after Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, it is further bearing its teeth against the government by launching an inquiry into the death of an official who had been investigating the corruption case that led to the arrest order.

Kamran Faisal, an assistant director of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his Islamabad office on January 18. His death came a day

 
after the NAB's chairman, Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari, told the Supreme Court it did not have enough evidence to arrest the prime minister, following the court's January 15 arrest order over a US$5 billion rental power projects (RPP) scandal.

Launching an inquest into the death on Thursday, the Supreme Court issued notices to Bokhari and other senior officials. It also started gathering CCTV footage from federal offices, Faisal's home and from an unofficial NAB meeting that took place on January 17. The court has said "all indications and evidence" suggest Faisal's death is linked to the RPP controversy.

The Pakistani government, which under President Asif Ali Zardari must face elections by May 13, is increasingly at odds with the judiciary. Last year, then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified from the post for refusing court orders to write a request to Swiss authorities to re-open corruption cases against Zardari. The Supreme Court is led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, seen as a hero when he stood up to the regime of former dictator General Pervez Musharraf but now, according to a Daily Star newspaper comment, "a threat to democracy" as "his efforts to get Zardari out of office ... complement the efforts of the army and [leader of recent anti-government protests Tahir] Quadri to push the government over the cliff."

Faisal's family disputes an autopsy report that concluded that he committed suicide, insisting he was murdered and calling for a judicial probe. Police have not yet made any headway, while the government has formed a commission headed by Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal to investigate the death.

In a further development, the Supreme Court on Thursday also announced it was pursuing a a second criminal case against the prime minister, relating to a former head of the oil and gas regulatory authority, Tauqir Sadiq. After being accused of embezzling 83 billion rupees (US$850 million) in kickbacks and commissions, Sadiq in 2009 fled abroad. Following an NAB investigation in 2011, the body said Sadiq was appointed by Ashraf.

Political pressure on Ashraf was intensified last week by a mass protest in the capital led by pro-army Sufi cleric Tahir Qadri, whose demands for electoral reforms led to a pre-election deal last week with the government.

Faisal's suspicious death came as his investigation into the RPP scandal was coming to a close. Bokhari and NAB director general HR Kausar Malik reportedly held a meeting with Faisal on the night of January 16 to discuss the case.

In 2009, Ashraf, who was then minister of water and power, promoted a plan to install 14 temporary power plants (also known as rental power plants, or RPPs) to generate 2,250 MW of electricity. They were intended to alleviate sever power shortages that for years have crippled the country's industrial production.

The Asian Development Bank, assigned by the government to evaluate the RPP agreements, declined to approve the plan as it could significantly increase consumer tariffs and use up billions of dollars of foreign exchange in as little as five years. Instead of working out an alternative strategy to deal with the energy shortages, the RPP agreements were signed.

Nine firms were reportedly given more than 22 billion rupees (US$225 million) in down payments from the government to commission the projects, Pakistan's The Nation has reported that "most of them did not set up their plants and a few of them installed them but with inordinate delay".

According to reports in The News, Faisal was under pressure from his bosses to change his position in the RPP case - which was in favor of the most influential accused, Prime Minister Ashraf.

The newspaper wrote:
Kamran [Faisal] was summoned by [NAB director general] Kausar from his Rawalpindi office. Kamran initially met Kausar Malik at the Islamabad headquarters and was later taken by Malik to the chairman's office. It was the same night when Kamran Faisal sent an SMS to a colleague, conveying, "DG HR WANT AFFIDAVIT IN BACK DATE REGARDING CHANGE FROM CASE; KIA KAROON (what should I do)". The colleague had advised him not to do this. The colleague, who gave his verbal account to the Islamabad police, confirmed that there was pressure on Kamran to change the report."
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry on Wednesday said influential figures were implicated on one side in the case against an "honest" investigating officer on the other. However, he said the court did not know if Faisal was murdered or committed suicide and that the probe should be carried out on a neutral forum and justice be done.

The Express Tribune wrote in an editorial:
There can be little doubt that Kamran Faisal must have been under a fair degree of pressure, as are many NAB officials. However, he had a fair amount of experience, having joined the force in 2006, and it is not known what kind of turmoil he may have been facing. Right now, there are simply too many variables. All we have is mere conjecture, and this too is not healthy. Given the nature of the case and the delicacy of the RPP issue, it is important we get to the bottom of the matter. Otherwise speculation will continue, adding not only to the complications in this case but to the troubled political scenario as a whole, at a time when too many doubts waft through the air keeping us all bound in an unsettling net of uncertainty.
Many believe that Faisal's mysterious death lends a new dimension to the RPP case.

The Supreme Court in a ruling last March declared RPPs as illegal and ordered the related plants to be shut down. The court said in its verdict that numerous rules and regulations were violated in these projects, such as the provision of 7% to 14% down payments, which caused losses to the public exchequer running into the billions of rupees. It was the court that directed the NAB to investigate the case and the alleged involvement of Ashraf.

The prime minister's critics hold Ashraf responsible for the country's energy woes - rolling blackouts began nationwide in early 2008 and continue in 2013, with an energy shortfall of around 5,000 megawatts seeing the crisis intensify particularly in the sweltering summer months of 2011 and 2012.

The News recently commented:
The emergence of a number of text messages exchanged between the deceased and his friends and colleagues provides strong circumstantial evidence that he was being harassed into making changes to the report he was to present to the court, by his superiors ... Young officers of NAB are deeply troubled by these events, and some have expressed a loss of confidence in their senior management.

If it transpires that NAB was being coerced - or merely asked - to dance to a political master in order to protect a powerful "influential" then its entire raison d'etre disappears. The belated launching by NAB of corruption cases against 15 ministers of the ousted Raisani [chief minister Aslam Raisani] cabinet in Balochistan lends strong weight to the possibility that NAB is being used as a political tool.

Where was it when Raisani was in power? A body charged with holding accountable to public scrutiny the highest in the land has to be firewalled against political interference. But if it proves to be umbilically connected to the seats of power, and a willing tool complicit in the misdeeds of the high and mighty, then NAB is about as much use or value as a square wheel. A big tool to beat the opponents at best.
Faisal's suspicious death exposes the pressures and dangers investigators face in working on high-profile graft cases in the current political climate. It also sends a powerful message to all officers investigating corruption scandals involving the authorities.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider ( www.syedfazlehaider.com ) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan, published in May 2004. E-mail, sfazlehaider05@yahoo.com

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