Page last updated at 11:10 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Two officials punished over Pakistan electricity theft

Technician at Nawaz Sharif's rally in Lahore
Power theft is commonplace in Pakistan

A low-ranking Pakistani official has been punished for stealing electricity to provide power for lights used at an opposition night rally.

An inquiry by the Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) blamed the theft on a junior municipal officer.

The unnamed official has been fined 3,000 rupees ($35) for ordering illegal connections for powerful searchlights.

The discovery that power was being stolen came as opposition leader Nawaz Sharif was denouncing corruption.

Lesco says it has also suspended a low-ranking official for failing in his duty to ensure that power supplies to the rally were not illegal.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says critics are bound to see the inquiry as a whitewash because the officials involved have been made into scapegoats.

Our correspondent says that electricity theft and other forms of corruption plague Pakistan but it is generally only poorer or less influential people who are arrested for it.

Live wires

Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party governs Punjab province, whose capital is Lahore, and was widely accused of siphoning off power to provide lighting for the rally.

Television footage showed that metal hooks had been illegally connected to live wires to secure the electricity supply.

The PML-N denied wrongdoing, saying the power supply had been arranged by Lahore administration officials to ensure security at the rally. Mr Sharif denied being personally responsible for the theft.

The allegations were embarrassing for the former prime minister, who indirectly denounced President Asif Zardari in his speech for making illegal money and stashing it away in foreign bank accounts.

Both men have denied persistent accusations of corruption over the years.

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