ISLAMABAD: It took about three years and eight months for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to interpret the decision of the Lahore High Court (LHC) in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case and restart an investigation against the Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
The Bureau announced in a brief press release issued on Wednesday that since the original NAB reference, in which Ishaq Dar was an approver, has been quashed by the Lahore High Court (LHC), the investigation against Dar as an accused is being restarted.
However, the NAB statement did not mention why the Bureau did not start a probe against Dar when the LHC decision was announced on March 11, 2014. The NAB’s fresh statement added that the decision of reopening of the case against Dar was made in the light of a verdict of the Supreme Court. Interestingly, there is no such verdict as the apex court is yet to hear NAB’s appeal to set-aside the March 2014 decision of LHC which quashed Hudaibya case against the Sharif family.
As far the Supreme Court’s final order of July 28 on Panama case is concerned, the apex court had left it to the NAB to take a decision on filing the appeal as is clear from the words “if and when” occurring in the order. “The argument that the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) overstepped its authority by reopening the case of Hudaibya Paper Mills when its reference was quashed by the LHC does not appear to be correct as the JIT has simply made recommendations in this case which can better be dealt with by the Supreme Court if and when an appeal before it, as undertaken by the NAB Special Prosecutor, is filed and a view to the contrary is taken by this court,” says paragraph 12 of the July 28 order of the Supreme Court.
When contacted by The News, a spokesman of the NAB offered no comments on why the NAB took 44 months in interpreting the LHC verdict and why the probe is being initiated about four months after the Supreme Court’s final order.
Earlier, NAB had filed an appeal before the Supreme Court on September 20 for re-opening the Hudaibya Paper Mills case against the Sharif family and a three-member bench of the apex court was set to hear the appeal on 13th November but the bench was dissolved after its head Justice Asif Saeed Khosa recused himself. While distancing himself from the petition filed by the NAB, Justice Khosa referred to his earlier verdict in Panama Papers case.
In his April 20 judgment, Justice Khosa’s 192-page note had directed NAB to proceed against Dar in connection with the Hudaibya reference case. Recapping his verdict in the case, Justice Khosa said, "Ishaq Dar was an accused in the case, then he turned into an approver. However, once the previous verdict in the case is going to be rendered void, Dar's status as approver will also end," he added. However, Justice Khosa’s note in the April 20 judgment could not be considered the order of the Supreme Court as the majority verdict did not mention re-opening of the case against Ishaq Dar.
NAB had appealed to the apex court against the Lahore High Court's 2014 decision to acquit the Sharif family in the Hudaibya Paper Mills case. The accused included former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza, Nawaz Sharif’s brother Abbas Sharif, his son Hussain, his daughter Maryam, his mother Shamim Akhtar and Sabiha Abbas (widow of Abbas Sharif).
In its appeal, the Bureau sought reversal of the LHC decision and an order for reinvestigation into the scam as per the new evidence which, it claimed, surfaced in the JIT report. It argued that the LHC referee judge was not competent to set aside the LHC findings in which the NAB had been allowed to re-initiate investigations.
Two LHC judges, forming part of a bench, had quashed the reference on a plea filed by the Sharif family but one of them had also recommended reinvestigation by the NAB. The LHC then appointed a referee judge, who also quashed the reference on March 11, 2014 on the grounds that if a re-investigation was allowed, it would provide an opportunity to the investigators to pad up lacunae.
The NAB had then decided not to challenge in the Supreme Court the LHC decision. Nawaz Sharif was not named in the interim reference in an accountability court filed in March 2000. However, in the final reference approved by the then NAB chairman Lt-Gen Khalid Maqbool, Nawaz Sharif’s name was also included.
The Hudaibya Paper Mills case was initiated on the basis of an April 25, 2000 confessional statement from Ishaq Dar, wherein he allegedly admitted his role in laundering money to the tune of $14.86 million on behalf of the Sharifs through fictitious accounts. Dar has always asserted that the statement was taken under duress and coercion. A new bench of the Supreme Court is expected to be constituted by the Chief Justice of Pakistan to hear the NAB’s petition.