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Wednesday Aug 12 2020

CM Buzdar's alleged liquor award recipient is a UK-based hotel company

On 12 August, NAB summoned Usman Buzdar regarding these allegations as well as spending an unnecessarily high amount insuring his official helicopter -- File photo

LONDON/LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has been accused by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for awarding a liquor license to a private hotel in Lahore, which is registered in the United Kingdom.

Unicorn Prestige Limited, which is still not operational in Pakistan, is registered as a hotel in the United Kingdom by the same owners who are accused of paying 50 million rupees as a bribe to the Punjab chief minister to win an L-2 liquor license.

On 12 August, NAB summoned Usman Buzdar regarding these allegations as well as spending an unnecessarily high amount insuring his official helicopter.

According to NAB documents, the chief minister of Punjab is accused of taking 50 million rupees as a bribe to bypass excise rules leading to an alcohol license being issued to the non-operational "Unicorn Prestige Hotel" which is located near the Lahore Airport.

Geo News has learned that the hotel is owned and controlled by Syed Murtaza Ali Naqvi, a British national and Jameel Abbas Naqvi, who also collectively own "Unicorn Prestige Limited", which has a registered address of Grenville Court Britwell Road, Burnham, Buckinghamshire SL1 8DF.

Unicorn Prestige Limited has total assets of £10.99 million, which amounts to over 2.4 billion rupees and liabilities of £12.49 million, which are over 2.7 billion rupees. The net worth of the company is £1.5 million, reflecting that it has more liabilities than assets in the UK.

The company has a SIC classification of Hotels and similar accommodation (55100) and has not filed the latest confirmation statement which is overdue by 115 days.

The hotel venture in Lahore is an investment by the same family which is accused of bribing Usman Buzdar to secure an alcohol license through improper means.

While it can be confirmed that the family has controlling stakes in the already operational Royal Swiss Hotel in Lahore, it is unclear why the Unicorn Prestige Hotel applied for an alcohol license in 2019 while it is still not operational.

The website of Unicorn Prestige Hotel does not show any phone number or address for the property but shows a map location of the hotel near Lahore's airport as well as the Royal Swiss Hotel.

NAB has alleged that the Unicorn Prestige Hotel applied for an L-2 liquor license without obtaining any kind of registration or license from the Department of Tourist Services Punjab.

The Pakistan Hotels and Restaurant Act 1976 and further policies by the chief minister's office in 2009 state that only hotels with a 4 or 5-star rating can apply for an L-2 liquor license.

Despite this, Unicorn Prestige Hotel was granted a liquor license without having such a classification and without registering the license with the Department of Tourist Services, Punjab as per rules of business.

According to sources within NAB, Punjab's excise department sent this matter to the Punjab CM Office thrice, highlighting the irregularity in the issuance of this license but the CM Office persisted and was ultimately successful in granting the license to Unicorn Prestige.

In 2019, several news reports claimed that Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore would have a liquor bar operated by Unicorn Prestige Hotel but later on, this was termed as fake news by various news outlets.

Responding to the recent inquiry against Chief Minister Punjab Buzdar by NAB, Information Minister Punjab Fayyaz ul Hasan Chohan said, “Excise DG sent the file to the CM secretariat which returned it. The license issued by excise DG has been cancelled.”

“The allegation levelled against Usman Buzdar of corruption and misuse of power is beyond understanding. The CM will respectfully appear before the anti-corruption watchdog and answer all questions."