Friday September 29, 2023

Dr Asim’s plea to transfer reference from accountability court okayed

September 05, 2023

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Monday granted former federal minister Dr Asim Hussain’s application for transferring the Rs17 billion corruption reference from the accountability court to a relevant forum in the light of the new amendments in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO).

Dr Hussain and others are facing a corruption reference pertaining to illegally awarding gas contracts to a private gas company, the Jamshoro Joint Venture Limited (JJVL), to process gas from the government’s gas fields without any open auction, and causing a loss of Rs17.338 billion to the national exchequer.

The applicant’s counsel said the trial court had rejected the application for transferring the reference from the accountability court to a relevant forum after the newly introduced amendments in the NAO.

The counsel said the applicant, and other government officials of the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) and the Oil & Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL) were government officials, and they were booked for misusing authority, but there was no evidence that they gained any monetary benefits from their act.

He said the trial court has no jurisdiction to try the case after the exclusion of the misuse of authority charge from the NAO’s purview in the newly introduced amendments. He requested the court to direct the trial court to return the reference to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman so that it can be referred to the appropriate forum under the law.

NAB’s special prosecutor and the federal law officer opposed the application, saying that the accountability court has jurisdiction to try the case, notwithstanding the recent amendments. They, however, did not point out any financial or monetary gain by the applicant on account of his action.

After hearing the arguments of the counsel, an SHC division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha said the applicant and other government officials admittedly did not receive any monetary gain as a result of their decision made in the reference.

The bench said the reference does not fall under the jurisdiction of NAO on the lack of monetary benefits by the government officials, as the same was excluded within the ambit by the NAO by the insertion of Section 4(2)(b) of the National Accountability Act XI, 2022.

The court said that there was no evidence to show that on account of any decision, advice, report or opinion made by the applicant and other government officials, they received monetary or other financial benefit, whether directly or indirectly.

The SHC said that pursuant to the amendments made by the Act, the reference does not fall within the jurisdiction of the NAO, and directed the trial court to return the reference to the NAB chairman through the investigating officer of the case for passing the appropriate orders, including but not limited to referring the matter to the relevant forum in accordance with the law.

Dr Hussain, the SSGC’s former managing directors Khalid Rehman and Zuhair Siddiqui, the OGDCL’s former managing director Basharat Mirza, the SSGC’s then deputy managing directors Yousuf Jamil Ansari and Shoaib Warsi, the SSGC’s former treasury and finance general manager Malik Usman and JJVL CEO Iqbal Z Ahmed were indicted in the case in February 2018.

In the reference filed in March 2016, NAB claimed that the former minister and officials permitted the JJVL to illegally process gas of Kunar Pasakhi Deep, Bobi, Sinjhoro, Naimat Basal and Badin gas fields without fulfilling the legal requirements because neither an open auction was held nor an agreement was signed. NAB alleged that the accused caused the exchequer to lose Rs17.34 billion.