ISLAMABAD: The former federal minister for religious affairs Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the Hajj scandal of 2010.
Special Judge Central on Friday also sentenced Director General (DG) Hajj Rao Shakeel and Joint Secretary for Religious Affairs Aftab Aslam to 40 years and 16 years respectively.
The three convicted are charged under section 409, 34, 467, 471, 109 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and 5(2) 47 of Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA). The scandal was unearthed in 2010 when Azam Swati, then Minister for Science and Technology, accused the religious affairs minister Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi of corruption. The Supreme Court took suo moto notice and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) was assigned to probe the allegations.
The investigation team was led by former Federal Investigation Agency director and current Additional Inspector General Punjab Hussain Asghar. The final petition was filed in 2012 by Ghazanfar Abbas, an FIA investigation officer. Subsequently, then minister for religious affairs, DG and the Joint Secretary of the ministry were indicted on charges of corruption on May 30, 2012.
Between 2010 and 2012, the Hajj corruption scandal rocked the national political scene and led to the departure of both Hamid Saeed Kazmi and Azam Swati from the federal cabinet. The former also spent nearly two years in prison over charges of irregularities in the 2009 Hajj operation and a case was registered leading to Kazmi’s arrest on March 15, 2011. Kazmi was subsequently indicted on charges of corruption in the case on May 30, 2012, to which he pleaded not guilty.
A total of 35,000 Pakistanis pilgrims were affected due to high charges. Some members of the parliament and Saudi officials were also suspected to be involved in the corruption. A Saudi prince had written to then Chief Justice of Pakistan that he had evidence about the corruption. The Supreme Court had later ordered inquiry into the matter. Abdul Qadir Gilani, the son of former Prime Minster Yusuf Raza Gilani, was also investigated into the matter but he was cleared of charges.
The three were accused of hiring a substandard building and charging exorbitant rates for housing pilgrims in Mecca and receiving kickbacks in the process. According to the charge sheet issued to Kazmi, DG Haj Rao Shakeel and Raja Aftabul Islam, a former joint secretary ministry of religious affairs, the men were indicted for fraud, cheating, misuse of authority, and causing losses to the national exchequer and the public at large.
The judgment authored by Judge Malik Nazir Ahmad imposed a fine of Rs 14,73,97,600 is also imposed on them under section 409 and 34. Similarly another fine of Rs 1 million was imposed under section 5(2) 47 of PCA. Failure to submit the fine will mean Kazmi remains imprisoned for another four years.
The verdict was announced after cross-examination of 60 witnesses presented by the prosecution. The convicted persons have the right to appeal the decision in the Islamabad High Court.