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December 1, 2017

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Hudaibiya Paper Mills case: NAB, defending its excuse,to be in a quandary

ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has come out with a ‘tangible’ justification for not appealing against the 2014 decision of the Lahore High Court (LHC) in the Hudaibya Paper Mills case only to cover up its failure to dispute it in the due course, an excuse that will be hard to defend in the Supreme Court.

The corruption buster has claimed that the influence used by Nawaz Sharif as the prime minister prevented the filing of the appeal. Obviously, it has put the blame on its own shoulders but when it was being led by its outgoing chairman, Qamar Zaman Chaudhry. This is the standard practice – accusing predecessors of wrongdoings - followed in Pakistan.

Under the law, the NAB doesn’t fall under the chief executive (prime minister). Not only in the cases against him it deals with, but in all other litigation, it is required to independently take decisions.

Minus its former chief and excluding its incumbent chairman Justice (R) Javed Iqbal, the entire NAB comprises almost the same personnel that used to serve previously on whom the responsibility of not submitting the appeal has now been put.

The fresh plea filed by the Javed Iqbal-led NAB leaves no doubt that the agency has accused the earlier NAB of having come under pressure the then premier, it alleged, exerted on it. During the last hearing in which the NAB lawyer was at a loss to justify the highly belated appeal, Justice Mushir Alam, who heads a three-member bench, had remarked: “You have to convince us pertaining to the merit of this instant matter and how the respondents, the Sharif family, managed to influence the case by quashing this reference; then, we will be able to proceed in the matter.”

The new NAB application only claimed that the then chief executive exercised his influence (on the organisation), but it has not elaborately explained why the LHC quashed the reference, and did not allege that the high court was also subjected to such tactics. It can’t because if it does so, it will be committing contempt of court it can’t afford.

Apart from other members of the legal team under Qamar Zaman, the then prosecutor general, KK Agha, had strongly opposed filing of the appeal on which the chairman relied and decided not to dispute the LHC decision. KK Agha was not known for having any leaning towards Nawaz Sharif or the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Because of the immense embarrassment that the NAB faced on the first day of the initial hearing on its appeal in the Supreme Court three days back, it was in search of some ‘cogent’ reason to camouflage its mortification. So, it preferred to blame the then prime minister, a charge that did not figure in its original appeal.

Obviously, there isn’t and can’t be anything in writing that the NAB can produce in support of its allegation of use of influence by Nawaz Sharif. One way to back up its accusation will be to request the apex court to summon Qamar Zaman and KK Agha (who can’t be for being a judge of the Sindh High Court now) to rebut or endorse it. If that happens, the former chairman will trash the claim.

The NAB kept sitting on the issue of appealing against the LHC judgment for three years. Even during the hearings in the Panama case, Qamar Zaman had told the five-member bench point blank that he would not go against the high court ruling on the basis of his legal team’s opinion. This had provoked some judges to say that the NAB became dead today.

Deputy Prosecutor General Imranul Haq is required to do a lot of explaining, apart from accusing the ex-premier of using influence without any convincing proof, to the Supreme Court to get his plea accepted.

In the last hearing, the panel noted that the issue of limitation would arise in the instant matter, and the NAB will have to satisfy it about the merits of the appeal. It had also asked the NAB to convince it as to how the Sharif family including Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif had influenced the judicial proceedings in the Hudaibya Paper Mills reference. This is definitely a very ticklish question to which the NAB will have to respond.

Justice Qazi Faez Isa had raised another important question by asking the prosecutor as to why the NAB did not proceed for nine months against the Sharif family in the Hudaibya Paper Mills case as the reference was on March 27, 2000 whereas the Sharif family was sent into exile on December 10, 2000.

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