ISLAMABAD: As a last resort to save Interior Minister Rehman Malik from imprisonment, President Asif Ali Zardari took no time to act and on Monday night granted pardon to him against conviction and sentence awarded to him by an accountability court of Rawalpindi in January 2004 in absentia under 31-A of the National Accountability Ordinance against which his appeal was rejected by the Lahore High Court (LHC) earlier during the day.
According to an Aiwan-e-Sadr press release received past midnight, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that the pardon was granted under Article 45 of the Constitution on the advice of the prime minister that was tendered late Monday night.
The release said Article 45 of the Constitution states, “The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or authority.”
Babar said that Rehman Malik was sentenced to three years imprisonment in each of the two references in absentia. He had filed appeals against his conviction, which, however, could not succeed. He said Rehman Malik has all along maintained that he has been victimised due to political reasons in his absence from Pakistan under a law specially crafted by Pervez Musharraf for the purpose of victimising political opponents.
Earlier, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) took no immediate step to arrest Rehman Malik after the restoration of his conviction. “The NAB legal team will review the LHC judgment on the interior minister’s appeal on Tuesday,” a senior official source told The News in a rather casual tone. Under the law, it is the Interior Ministry that Rehman Malik heads that recommends cases of presidential pardon.
When contacted after the rejection of Rehman Malik’s appeal by the LHC, senior advocate, well versed in criminal law, Rab Nawaz Noon told The News that at this moment, the interior minister was a convict and police should arrest him as no convict could be a minister or a senator.
However, Noon, who is considered close to the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), said that Rehman Malik could move the Supreme Court for the suspension of his sentence without being arrested. “He can take the plea that when the LHC restored his conviction, he was not arrested and has never been arrested.”
However, the other view was that the interior minister has to go to the Supreme Court, seeking suspension of the LHC judgment when he would be under arrest and handcuffed. Questions may be raised at the apex court why has he not been taken into custody despite the revival of his sentence by the LHC.
A senior official had apprehended that another Ahmad Riaz Sheikh, an NRO beneficiary, whom the government used every trick to protect, was in the making. He was arrested only after the Supreme Court directed Islamabad police to arrest him when he appeared before it.
Officials were sure that Rehman Malik was unlikely to be taken into custody in view of his official position and would be given time to file a revision in the LHC or an appeal in the Supreme Court to get the verdict stayed and subsequently set aside.
But a NAB official said on condition of anonymity that had such appeal of an ordinary person been turned down, NAB would have quickly arrested him from the courtroom. The interior minister happened to be in Karachi with President Zardari when the LHC handed down its ruling on his appeal. He consulted with the president and it was decided to resort to the presidential pardon as the only viable option to avert his arrest.
NAB spokesman Ghazni Khan offered no comment on NAB’s action in the wake of the dismissal of Rehman Malik’s appeal. The Director General of the NAB regional office in Lahore, Maj (retd) Shahnawaz, was not available for comments. He did not bother to return the call although a message was dropped in his office.
When contacted, NAB Deputy Prosecutor General (DPG) Chaudhry Sultan Mansoor expressed ignorance about the LHC decision on Rehman Malik’s appeal, saying he did not deal with it. Another DPG Raja Aamer Abbas of NAB said that the two corruption references, in which Rehman Malik was sentenced by the accountability court in absentia when he was in London and which the LHC upheld, continue as usual in a Rawalpindi accountability court.
In the NAB list of persons, convicted in absentia, handed over to the Supreme Court during the proceedings against the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in December last, figured the names of Rehman Malik, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, MB Abbasi, Sardar Mansoor Leghari, Inamur Rehman, Adnan Imtiaz, Mian M Rashid, Raheel J Qureshi, Sadiq Ali Khan and Ibrar Ahmed.
The NRO judgment said that conviction in absentia was a final order; therefore, no other forum can declare it as void except a judicial forum and that too by filing an appeal. It reads: “That it may be clarified that any judgment, conviction or sentence recorded under Section 31-A of the NAB Ordinance” [dealing with sentence in absentia] “shall hold the field subject to law and since the NRO stands declared as void ab initio, therefore, any benefit derived by any person in pursuance of Section 6 thereof is also declared never to have legally accrued to any such person and consequently of no legal effect.”