Announcing its verdict in the Hajj corruption case today (Friday), a session court in Islamabad has sentenced former religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi to 16 years in prison. Special Judge Central Nazeer Ahmad also convicted two former senior officials of the religious affairs ministry, Aftab Islam and Rao Shakil, and awarded them 16 and 40 years jail term respectively.

The Hajj scam had surfaced in 2010 after the then Minister for Science and Technology Azam Swati accused Kazmi, an influential minister in the government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), of his involvement in corruption in the pilgrimage.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan took suo moto notice of the case after receiving a letter by Saudi Prince Bander Bin Khalid Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud who revealed that Pakistani pilgrims were charged more for the residences rented by the ministry near Makkah and Madina. He said the concerned ministry had rented residences for pilgrims during Hajj for up to 3,600 riyals while the prices were actually around 1,500 riyals, adding that he had offered lower rates to the ministry but his quotation was rejected.

A total of 35,000 Pakistanis pilgrims were affected due to high charges.

Afterwards, a case was registered leading to Kazmi’s arrest on March 15, 2011 but he was granted bail by a Rawalpindi court in August 2012.

In its decision in 2013, the Supreme Court had ordered FIA to carry out thorough investigation of this case.

Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had sacked both Kazmi and Swati from their offices. Abdul Qadir Gilani, the son of former prime minster, was also investigated into the matter but he was cleared of charges.

On 2nd September, 2009, Kazmi had survived an apparent attempt on his life by motorcycle-borne gunmen who shot at his car near a bustling market in the capital.

The driver of the vehicle was killed on the spot, while a security guard was wounded.

The ex-minister was wounded in the leg and underwent surgery for fractures.While the police did not comment on the possible motives for the drive-by attack.