High Asia Report
GILGIT: An accountability court on Tuesday accepted the plea bargain application of Salim Khan, a former member of the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly, to pay Rs51 million he had embezzled in the Sost Dry Port scam.
Justice Khurshid Ahmed of the Accountability Court Gilgit approved the plea bargain on the recommendation of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) regional office.
The accused was arrested by the Nab on November 10, 2020, and obtained his remand. However, the accused through his counsel Manzoor Ahmed applied for a plea bargain and offered to return the Rs51 million he had obtained fraudulently and illegally.
According to the prosecutor, Salim Khan, son of former Governor of GB Ghazanfar Ali Khan, was arrested under section 9(a) of the NAB law for corruption and obtaining Rs50m loan fraudulently from National Bank of Pakistan Sost branch in 2007 in connivance with other co-accused against fake documents.
At that time he was holding dual positions. He was vice-president of the Pak-China Sost Port Company (PCSPC) as well as Chairman of Silk Route Dry Port Trust (SRDPT).
He obtained Rs50 million loan in the name of PCSPC but credited it in the account of SRDPC of which he was chairman and embezzled the amount.
The NAB, Gilgit-Baltistan initiated investigations into the alleged corruption of billions of rupees committed by Pakistan Custom officials at the Sost dry port.
On November 11, 2020, the bureau arrested Salim Khan and obtained his physical transitory remand from NAB Court Islamabad.
On April 10, 2018, the Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court disqualified Salim Khan and ordered the GB Election Commission to de-seat him. He was elected member of GBLA from Hunza in August 2016 by-election.
Meanwhile, Salim Khan engaged in a long-running property dispute with his parents that came to the limelight in mainstream media in June 2018, when he was arrested by the Islamabad police on the complaints of his mother Atiqa Ghazanfar on charges of vandalism and hooliganism. In October 2018 his father disinherited him.
Background of the scam
In 2009 differences popped up among top officials of the PCSDP after the probe was launched into the mismanagement, and massive embezzlement in the account of the company. The then president of the NBP in order to save the prime accused in the Rs50 million scam ordered closer of the NBP regional office in Gilgit to revert its status to a ‘sub-region’.
On December 24, 2017 spokesperson for SRDPT accused the NBP regional manager Gilgit Zubaid Ali Sheikh of misusing his authority by deducting 50.1 million from the SRDPT account without the consent of the trustees. The amount was deducted to recover the loan obtained by the former VC of PCSDPC by keeping the building of the port mortgaged. A forgery case was launched against the NPB staff earlier by FIA and some of them have already been dismissed.
The spokesmen also accused the manager has deducted the fund to secure Khan from disqualification.
Background of PCSPC
The PCSDPC is a joint venture between Pakistan’s Silk Route Dry Port Trust and China’s Sinotrans Xinjiang Jiuling Transportation and Storage Company Ltd in 2002.
The Pakistani firm holds 40 per cent share and the Chinese company 60 per cent. The Chinese side invested cash and the Pakistani side provided the land.
Yaun Jianmin, the chairman of PCSDPC, alleged that the loan had been obtained by the former vice-chairman of the company, “through illegal and ugly methods”. He said the Chinese investors were kept “totally in dark” during the entire process.
“We are the victim of this illegal loan,” Mr Yaun said, adding that he had reported the matter to the Pakistani embassy in China and the Chinese embassy in Pakistan as well as the NBP.
The accused had maintained that the board of directors of the company had agreed to obtain the loan for expansion work and building a boundary wall around an area of 260 kanals.
Mr Khan said Yaun Jianmin was chairman of the company and Hou Enzon its director and they had jointly signed the loan papers and provided proof of the land to bank officials as collateral.
On November 14, 2006, then Deputy Chief Executive Northern Areas Ghazanfar Ali Khan who was also the chairman of SRDPT agreed to an arbitrated settlement of the dispute.
An arbitration committee, consisting of 45 notables, and political figures of Hunza was formed to conduct an audit of the accounts of the port from 1999 to 2004 and the mismanagement of the accounts and documentation.
According to FBR report, the collectorate of customs received Rs555 million under the head of customs duty against a revenue target of Rs160 million, and the GB fetched Rs647.782 million under the head of sales tax against a target of Rs191 million in 2019.
The GB received Rs198.502 million under the head of withholding tax against the assigned target of Rs53.1 million for November 2019-20.
Sources said that Rs2.8 billion were collected as customs duties during 2018, and Rs6.7 billion in 2019, which was the highest revenue collection in the history of Sost Dry Port.
They said the difference of Rs3.9 billion in revenue collection in the two years prompted the NAB investigation.
The custom officials deployed at the dry port during 2018 were accused of embezzling billions of rupees, the sources said, adding the NAB officials had submitted the report to their headquarters for approval of an investigation.
The sources said the customs officials committed large-scale misdeclaration on the description and value of imported goods from China. They said the NAB had also details of smuggling of banned items from China into Pakistan through Khunjerab Pass during 2018.