Navy wants closed trial of Mansur

The News International
By Kamran Khan
Wednesday, May 23, 2001-- Safar 28,1422 A.H

KARACHI: The Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Abdul Aziz Mirza, has cautioned the government that public disclosures -- in an open trial -- about the kickbacks and commissions allegedly paid to retired officials of Pakistan Navy by the state-run French defence institutions may undermine the future of contractual agreements with the French manufacturers of US $1.5 billion three Agosta-B submarines and the missile supplier.

Admiral Mansurul Haq, due to arrive in Islamabad under NAB custody from the United States this week, is the first Pakistani four-star general ever to be arrested on the charges of corruption and his open trial -- if ever held -- may dramatically improve Gen Pervez Musharraf's ratings in his crusade against corruption in Pakistan.

The prospects for such a public trial, however, are fading fast as Pakistan Navy informed the government that the project regarding acquisition of three French submarine and the related upgradation, that will prepare these submarines for any nuclear confrontation in the sea, is in the final phase and the navy can hardly afford actions that may embarrass the French government and its defence contractors at this crucial stage of the project.

Pakistan Navy, facing growing threat from India's fast developing "blue-water" navy, is currently receiving advanced missile-related training and expertise from France, which had earlier brushed aside American and other international objections to its missile cooperation with Pakistan navy. Apart from allegations regarding the sale of Agosta-B submarines NAB has also alleged that kickbacks and commissions were distributed by the French firm to senior naval officials for the sale of SM 39 missiles.

Apart from its concern over the possible French reaction, the naval commanders, officials said, are also concerned about the negative influence of Admiral Mansur's trial on the morale of their men and officers many of whom believed to have taken a note of the fact that, while the navy's purchase of submarines came under tremendous official scrutiny and intense probes, similar deals relating to the purchase of tanks for Pakistan Army from Ukraine and acquisition of old Mirage aircraft and Matra missiles by Pakistan Air Force from France were not even touched by the NAB despite mounting evidence suggesting underhand payments to top army and airforce officials in those defence deals.

Sources who have an access to the former naval chief's friends and his family in America said that Mansur, on his return to Pakistan, would vigorously contest as to why the senior naval officials -- he names Rear Admiral A U Khan (retd), Vice Admiral Khalid Mir and Rear Admiral Mujtaba and Admiral Saeed Khan (former naval chief) -- who had actually finalised and scrutinised the submarine deal -- were rewarded by the successive governments while he was made an scapegoat.

The thrust of Mansur's arguments revolve around the fact that the submarine deal had been concluded by his predecessor Admiral Saeed Khan and he had only dealt with the upgradation part of the deal.

In this background the authorities thought that only two options are currently available with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to prevent the former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Mansurul Haq from settling scores with his former colleagues and the former top brass of military services by questioning their role in various defence deals in an open court is either to strike a quick plea bargain deal with the former naval chief or to have him tried in-camera.

The NAB is more interested in wrapping the case through a plea bargain because despite informing the US officials last month that besides Admiral Mansur "certain naval officials" were also involved in receiving kickbacks and commissions from foreign defence suppliers, it has not yet arrested any of those naval officials who were believed to be important members of the syndicate that operated under Mansur for about three years.

A senior NAB source privately conceded in a background interview in Islamabad recently that "any honest probe would result in the interrogation and subsequent arrest of scores of former and present naval officials and it will lead to calls for similar accountability in airforce and army and a military government would hate to face such an embarrassing situation."

Widespread whispering in naval circles has already started in that direction. Admiral Mansur, his family sources revealed, is now keen to know as to why a definite link between Colonel Mahmood alias Moda, the representative of TFT Progress of Ukraine and the then Chief of Army Staff Gen Jehangir Karamat was ignored in US $605 million deal for the purchase of 320 T 80 UD tanks.

NAB sources have disclosed it to The News that a reported statement made by Col Mahmood alias Moda to Saifur Rahman in 1998 on the kickbacks received from Ukrainian authorities and its further distribution is missing from the NAB records.

Mansur is particularly disturbed that a statement from Col Mahmood alias Moda citing the role of senior army officials in getting the Ukrainian tank deal approved and some senior Pakistan Air Force officials on the Mirage plane deals was swept under the carpet while an identical statement from a Karachi businessman was cited as the main evidence against him.

In the case of purchase of used Mirage planes by Pakistan Air Force, the NAB is understood to be in possession of documentary and circumstantial evidence that raises serious questions about the role of the then PAF chief Air Marshal Abbas Khattak in the deal.

The PAF had bought 40 Mirage (34 Mirage-vf, 6 Mirage 3 BE model varied from 1996 to 99 -- at an average of US $3m per piece). Later special allocation worth more than US $100 million was made for the upgradation of these aircraft.

In two investigative stories published on August 28 and September 14 last year The News had exposed massive corruption in mega defence deals. After publication of those stories the NAB probed the role of foreign companies such as TFT Progress of Ukraine and SEGAM, Aerdspatiale, DCNI and SOFMA of France in bribing the top military and political officials through their local agents, but the NAB's probe remained restricted to the companies that had dealt only with Pakistan Navy.

Since the sacking of Admiral Mansurul Haq, after his hand-written admission of guilt to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 1997, the navy and other services chiefs including the then COAS Gen Jehangir Karamat was against the open probe of defence deals. While former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, on receiving some startling evidence of corruption, was about to move against the then PAF chief Air Marshal Abbas Khattak, COAS Jehangir Karamat warned him against this decision citing its impact on the morale of forces.

Admiral Fasih Bukhari, Mansur's successor as naval chief, tried to hide the role of the senior brass of the navy in the submarine and associated deals in 1999 when he ordered an unprecedented pardon for the former director naval intelligence commodore Shahid and captain Liaquat Malik who had earlier been convicted by a field general court martial (FGCM) for their role in accepting commissions and blackmailing other senior naval officials in submarine and related deals with French defence contractors.

The main reason for the former naval chief to grant prison term pardon for the senior naval officials was their knowledge about the involvement of various naval officials in corruption and their threat to make a public exposure about those naval officials. Throughout their trial period and even after their conviction the former naval chief had allowed both officials to live in the comfort of their personal residences with no restrictions on their movement in Islamabad.

While the NAB was flooded with evidence about Admiral Mansur's kickback and commission operation in Bahria Foundation and housing projects; his misuse of official facilities to import merchandise for his Rs 10 crore bungalow; grant of contracts to Bari Mian, Tariq Islam and Commander Jilani, etc. Pakistan Navy never initiated any probe against its former naval chief nor any of his cronies including a vice admiral were taken to task.

The oft-repeated claims that the military services have their own rigid mechanism to carry out accountability of its officers stood exposed last month after it was officially disclosed that during his thirty-five year service as naval officer Admiral Mansur held no less than 10 plots of land, with an average price of Rs 75 lakh each, two posh bungalows worth Rs 12 crore, one mansion in Austin, Texas, two Mercedes cars, at least three foreign bank accounts with at least seven million dollars deposited in them, yet the in-built accountability system never caught him or caused any hindrance in his rise up to the post of the chief of naval staff.