The Supreme Court’s September 15 ruling declaring some amendments made to the accountability law in 2022 null and void appears to have breathed a new life into accountability courts as the anti-corruption watchdog has started transferring cases of alleged corruption back to them.
Sources said more than 100 cases, along with the relevant record, have been returned to Karachi’s five accountability courts by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in pursuance of the apex court judgment. However, they added, some of the courts sent the cases back to the bureau citing some technical issues.
They explained that letters regarding the return of cases to the registrars of the accountability courts were sent by NAB prosecutors instead of the bureau’s director general to whom the courts had forwarded the cases.
Official statistics show that a total of 187 references of corruption were returned by Sindh’s accountability courts, both to NAB and to various other courts due to lack of jurisdiction following the amendments made to the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.
Of these, 109 cases were returned by five accountability courts in the port city, while 28 by Hyderabad’s three courts and 50 by the sole functional accountability court in Sukkur.
The corruption cases that were returned in the wake of the accountability law amendments include those against politicians, former ministers, bureaucrats, businessmen, property developers and others. The cases were either directly forwarded to the provincial anti-corruption or banking courts by the accountability courts or to the NAB director general to file them before relevant forums.
The most recent high-profile case returned by an accountability court (AC) was against former federal minister Dr Asim Hussain. On September 11, the AC-IV had sent the Rs17 billion corruption reference to the NAB chairman to file it before a relevant forum.
References against Muttahida Qaumi Movement leaders Mustafa Kamal and Rauf Siddiqui, former Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) chairman Moeen Aftab Sheikh, former director general Karachi Development Authority Syed Nasir Abbas and others were also sent back to the national graft buster.
Out of the 17 accountability courts in Sindh, three are currently operating in Karachi, three in Hyderabad and one in Sukkur.
An official said that the accountability court-IV had been lying vacant since July 15 when the three-year tenure of its presiding officer, Mukesh Kumar, expired. He said the cases pending before this court are now taken up by the in-charge judge of the AC-VII.
High-profile cases, including those against Dr Asim Hussain, have been returned to the AC-IV and are likely to suffer further delays due to the court lying vacant.
Similarly, the accountability court-I has also been lying vacant for the past six months. It is noteworthy that Sindh High Court Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M Sheikh had last month ordered re-designation/conversion of ten accountability courts into six banking, one customs/anti-smuggling, anti-narcotic and gas utility court each.
According to a notification issued by the SHC registrar, Karachi’s AC-VI (accountability court), AC-VII, AC-VIII, AC-IX and AC-X are to be re-designated as Banking Court-VI, Banking Court-VII, Special Court-II (Customs, Taxation and Anti-Smuggling), Special Court-III (Control of Narcotic Substances) and recently created Gas Utility Court for Karachi.
Two courts in Hyderabad, AC-II and AC-II, will be converted into Banking Court-Dadu and Banking Court-Mirpurkhas, the notification said.
The AC-II, AC-III, and AC-IV will be re-designated as Banking Court-Ghotki, Banking Court-Shaheed Benazirabad and Special Court (Central) Sukkur.