LAHORE - The Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment has widened the scope of investigation and tightened noose around the powerful people involved in fraud to grab Chiniot mineral resources amounting to $915 billion, The Nation has learnt.

The ACE registered a case of fraud and attempt to rob mineral resources in Rajoa town near Chiniot on April 15 after nine years. The deal was struck between a fake company and Punjab Mineral Development Corporation (Punjmin) during the PML-Q rule in the Punjab.

The accused included influential figures like Sibtain Khan, PTI’s Deputy Parliamentary Leader in the Punjab Assembly, Arshad Waheed, owner of a fake firm, Earth Resources Private Limited (ERPL), former secretary Imtiaz Cheema and several ex-bureaucrats.

Sources told The Nation that Sibtain Khan, the then mines and minerals minister of PML-Q government, Imtiaz Cheema and ERPL chief Arshad Waheed, in connivance with Punjmin, planned to plunder iron and copper reserves in Rajoa in 2007.

Punjmin and ERPL entered into a joint venture on December 6, 2007, under an investment and profit ratio of 20:80. The final agreement was approved by the then caretaker Punjab CM Sheikh Ijaz Nisar, whereas the whole process of negotiations between the two companies and documentations had been completed during the PML-Q government.

The series of events established that EPRL chief Arshad, a US national, made a request to the then minister for an agreement on a public holiday (March 23, 2007) and EPRL men met him at his official residence the same day. The EPRL was briefed by Mines and Mineral Department officials on Chiniot reserves. Later, at a meeting held on September 9, 2007), Punmin BoD allowed the corporation and Imtiaz Cheema to further negotiate with EPRL. Cheema moved the case for the approval of joint venture to the CM on Nov 16, 2007, only two days before the term of PML-Q Chief Minister Ch Pervaiz Elahi was going to end.

Interestingly, the case remained dormant and was moved again on Nov 27 when Sheikh Ejaz approved it just five days after he assumed the charge as caretaker CM.

The events show the then Punjmin MD opposed the agreement at many stages and made repeated requests for due examination by the finance and law departments of the province, but they were ignored.

The reserves were allotted to the company without a competitive bidding. As per agreement, 80 percent profit from this national asset was to go to EPRL (a firm which was neither registered nor had it any office in Pakistan at the time of the signing of the agreement).

When Shehbaz Sharif took over as the chief minister, the Punjmin MD requested him in April 2008 to review the case and look into the deal signed by the caretaker government. The Punjab CM, on a note from the then mines secretary Saifullah Chattha ordered ACE to look into the matter.

The ERPL moved the Lahore High Court, pleading since the deal had already been signed, they should be given control of the reserves. The Punjab government contested the case and the LHC annulled the deal, ordering NAB to look into the matter. The Punjab CM had already ordered ACE to launch probe. The provincial government prayed to the court that the Punjab ACE, and not the NAB chairman, be allowed to hold an inquiry as directed by the CM. The request was not accepted by the court.

The NAB submitted its inquiry report in LHC in April 2013 and declared that the accused had tried to get a licence through fraud with the intention to cause loss to the national exchequer. The LHC, in its final order on November 12, 2014, observed: “The office is directed to consign the file to the record.”

Meanwhile, the ERPL moved the Supreme Court, filing a civil petition for leave to appeal along with stay application. The Mines and Mineral Department sought a copy of the NAB report to defend its case against ERPL in the apex court.

After receiving the copy of the inquiry report, the department held lengthy consultations with legal experts and reached the conclusion that the case pending with ACE should be contested. The NAB, in its final report, had held that closure of the fraud case would not affect any other case against ERPL if it was already under investigation.

On March 2016, Mines and Mineral Department, after holding final and detailed consultations with legal experts in the light of the NAB and ACE reports, directed the Faisalabad ACE to go ahead with the investigation. The Faisalabad ACE, after conducting further inquiry, booked Sibtain, Imtiaz Cheema, Basharatullah, Muhammad Aslam, Mian Abdus Sattar, Idrees Rizwani and Arshad Waheed on April 15, 2016.

Sources said more facts about the fake deal would surface after registration of the case. “It is just the tip of an iceberg. What follows will be shocking,” they said.