LAHORE -  The FIA failed to arrest 17 influential accused after their pre-arrest bails were cancelled from a court in Employees Old Age Benefit Institution (EOBI) case.

All the accused, including EOBI senior officers and private land sellers, are allegedly involved in taking kickbacks and spending Rs 44 billion EOBI funds illegally.

The FIA initiated investigations against them about three years ago for allegedly causing Rs 44 billion loss to the national exchequer with underhand land deals, but did not make sincere efforts to arrest them. The main accused of the case and former EOBI chairman Zafar Iqbal Gondal, however, obtained post-arrest bail from the Lahore High Court in one case, but in six cases he would have to get bails, said FIA Punjab Director Dr Usman Anwar. Gondal is accused of spending Rs 44 billion on the purchase of land in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi at exorbitant prices in violation of EOBI, PPRA and NAB rules.

It is worth mentioning here that the EOBI Board had vehemently opposed the controversial land deals with selected property tycoons, but Gondal allegedly enjoyed the backing of the then PPP government because his elder brother Nazar Gondal was a federal minister.

Those whose pre-arrest bails were cancelled last week included Farman, Ahsan, Nawaz, Ishaq, Amin, Amir, Shazia Ammar, Ammar Ahmad, Horizon, Wahid Khursheed, Wamiq Anwar, Ahsan Raja, Khurram Khalid, Zia Altaf, Tajammul Saqib and Asif Azad. The National Assembly Standing Committee on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development directed FIA to accelerate the pace of investigation on FIRs registered against the accused in Employees Old Age Benefit Institution (EOBI) scam.

More than 11 FIRs were registered against the accused with FIA Anti-Corruption Lahore Circle while their bails were cancelled in 10 cases. The accused have moved the Lahore High Court against the decision of the Special Court.

Sources in FIA said the accused are very influential and when they visited the court, they were accompanied by armed persons. When the court cancelled their pre-arrest bails, no FIA officer dared to arrest them.

Another interesting thing which an FIA officer pointed out was the accused had secured pre-arrest bail in seven cases during the last three years. Supreme Court Bar Association Secretary General Aftab Ahmad Bajwa said it was unprecedented and violation of the National Judicial Policy. He said it was possible only with the consent of complainants.

The scam landed in the Public Accounts Committee in the recent past in which it was revealed that housing societies of Defence Housing Authority, Eden Housing Society, the housing society of PTI leader Aleem Khan and others have sold their plots at exorbitant prices to the EOBI, causing a loss of billions of rupees to the national exchequer.

The Public Accounts Committee has also expressed its serious reservations over not sending the issue of purchase of 500 plots in DHA in 2005 to the Supreme Court. An FIA officer, on condition of not to be named, said if the federal government was really interested in finalisation of mega scams like EOBI, NICL and others, it should form a prosecution cell to deal with such important issues. Senior constitutional experts should be members of this cell and their security be ensured.  To a question why FIA did not arrest the accused, the FIA Punjab director said the accused had left the court before cancellation of their bails.