Corruption reference: SHC questions NAB’s conduct as it grants bail to Agha Siraj Durrani

December 14, 2019

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Friday granted bail to Pakistan People's Party leader and Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani charged with the accumulation of Rs1.6 billion assets beyond...

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KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Friday granted bail to Pakistan People's Party leader and Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani charged with the accumulation of Rs1.6 billion assets beyond known sources of income, observing that "there are a number of aspects which make it a case of further inquiry".

It, however, directed the Ministry of Interior to place the name of Agha Siraj Durrani on the Exit Control List. The anti-corruption watchdog had filed a reference against Durrani and his family members, including his brother Agha Massiuhddin Durrani, for accumulating assets worth Rs1.6 billion beyond his known source of income through benamidars. The other co-accused -- Agha Massiuhudin, Gulzar Ahmed, Aslam Pervez Langah, Tufail Ahmed Shah, Shamshad Khatoon, Mitha Khan, Shakeel Ahmed Soomro and Zulfiqar Ali Dahar -- had earlier been granted pre-arrest bail. The petitioner’s counsel submitted that Durrani owned the assets in his name and those in the names of his immediate family members. He said the petitioner’s daughters had also had land in their names from which they generated income, and there was no such admission for the other properties which NAB claimed were in the names of his front men.

The NAB prosecutor argued that the petitioner had collected assets beyond his known sources of income and his bail petition should be dismissed. A division bench, headed by Justice Omer Sial, observed that NAB’s allegations during tentative assessment were vague and would require further inquiry.

It said NAB alleged that Durrani owns vehicles whose worth adds up to Rs49,624,000, but the reference itself states that the registration of vehicles is in the names of unknown persons and no credentials or details of these unknown persons have been shown before the court by the NAB prosecutor. Besides, it observed, NAB did not collect sufficient evidence with regard to the purchase of valuables worth Rs125,000,000 which were found in the locker of the petitioner and his wife and landholding documents pertained to the petitioner’s daughters.

The court also questioned NAB’s investigation into the collection of evidence to determine known sources of income of the petitioner, observing that not once did the investigation officer visit the localities where the assets of Durrani’s family were located and what income they generated; instead, he conducted the entire investigation from his office relying on letters written to him by various people in order to establish the nature and extent of the assets owned by the family as well as the identities and role of the alleged front men.

The high court further stated that it appears that the investigation officer may not have taken into account that the Durrani family has substantial landholding which may not all stand in the name of Durrani, yet the benefit of which was shared by the entire family.

It observed that no investigation appears to have been conducted for the period prior to 2008, which again was surprising as the bureau should have known that Durrani came from an agriculture family. It said known sources of income and the income generated from them in a tentative assessment requires further inquiry as it has come to the court's notice that in a number of cases the accused have got the benefit of weak investigations. The high court observed that the prosecution department should ensure that the investigation carried out and the evidence collected was of such a nature and strength that it could withstand closer scrutiny when the case was in court.

The bench also took an exception to NAB’s conduct during a search operation at Durrani’s house and observed that most regrettably, it appears that the search conducted by NAB at the Durrani house was done in a crude and unprofessional manner without following the procedure laid down under Section 103 of the CrPC.

It said the search could have been conducted in a respectful and professional manner complying with all legal requirements and respecting the dignity and self-respect of the inhabitants and their home, yet a brash approach was adopted as if the dwelling of harbouring terrorists or hardened criminals was being raided.

The court also questioned the need of the arrest of the petitioner at the inquiry level when even by NAB’s own admission he was cooperating fully with the investigation officer. On the NAB prosecutor’s argument with regard to the bureau’s power to issue an arrest warrant for a person even during the stage of inquiry, the court observed that there was absolutely no cavil to what the NAB prosecutor argued about, but it must be ensured that there were solid grounds to make arrests and that a person was not deprived of his liberty on whimsical and arbitrary reasons. The court observed that it is optimistic that the NAB chairman will direct that the training, discipline and professionalism of his officers on the ground are further enhanced and the procedure for search and arrest should be revisited.

It said the spirit of Article 14 of the Constitution says that the dignity of man and privacy of home is inviolable and should further be inculcated in his officers. The court observed that it would be a sad day for NAB as an institution with its well-educated and trained investigation officers if it was perceived as adopting a "thana culture which would do irreparable damage to its prestige, respect and reputation as a fair and impartial investigation agency in the eyes of the public who must have confidence, faith and trust in the conduct of NAB during its investigation.

The SHC observed that the "unholy rush" to arrest Durrani whilst he was in Islamabad prima facie appears to be wholly unjustified and does not reflect well on NAB. It further stated that Durrani deserves the concession of bail as on tentative assessment it appears that there are a number of aspects which make it a case of further inquiry. The court observed that benefit of bail will also flow to the alleged front men who were on interim bail especially as it can be inferred from discussion that there appears to be tinges of malafide on the part of NAB floating on the face of the record. The bench granted bail to the Sindh Assembly speaker subject to furnishing a surety of Rs1 million, but directed the Ministry of Interior to place his name on ECL.

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