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April 19, 2019

Plea bargain concept exists in Pakistan only: SC

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April 19, 2019

ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court bench on Thursday heard a case on the voluntary return rules of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), local media reported. Heading the three-member bench, Justice Shiekh Azmat Saeed said, “In other countries the sentence of an accused is reduced over voluntary return, while here the NAB itself writes letters to offer the voluntary return option. However, the voluntary return means the accused himself offers return of money.”

The court observed that the concept of plea bargain is in existence only in Pakistan. Justice Azmat Saeed observed that one of the questions to be decided is whether to discuss the previous decisions or not and another issue is the procedure of return of the amount while the third issue to be decided is if the amount is being returned by a government employee then what will be the procedure.

“There is also the question of division of powers,” Justice Saeed further said. “In the case, division between the judicial and executive powers has to be made”. An amicus curie in the case, Farooq H Naek said that the relevant laws are also required to be reviewed.

Justice Saeed said that the court will review the earlier decisions separately. He said that an interpretation of the Article 175 is also needed in the case. The court later adjourned the case proceedings till the third week of May.

In an earlier hearing, the court had summoned the standard operating procedure (SOP) for plea bargain deals from the NAB. The apex court had earlier asked the parliament to amend the accountability law allowing voluntary return of plundered money by February or else the court would pass an appropriate order in this regard.

It may be mentioned here that the apex court had proposed two amendments to the NAB Ordinance of 1999 in November last year. According to Section 25 of NAO, the NAB chairman, with the approval of any accountability court, can order the release of an accused found guilty of corruption after he/she enters into a plea bargain or an agreement by returning the misappropriated money to the bureau.

Meanwhile, the SC also issued notices to former Punjab Chief Minister and incumbent leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Mian Shahbaz Sharif and former principal secretary to Prime Minister Fawad Haasan Fawad for May 2 in the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases.

A three-member bench headed by Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and comprising Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Ijazul Ahsen admitted for regular hearing an appeal of the NAB against the order of Lahore High Court (LHC) granting bail to Shahbaz Sharif and Fawad Hassan Fawad in the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases.

In its appeals, the anti-graft body had contended that the high court has not reviewed the facts and regulations in the Ashiana case in the right way. It had prayed the apex court to suspend the bail granted to Shahbaz and Fawad. In October last year, the NAB Lahore had taken the former chief minister into custody in connection with the case.

Appearing on notice, Naeem Bukhari, special prosecutor for NAB submitted before the court that the verdict passed by the LHC was against the principles set for granting a bail adding that the trial in the instant case could be affected due to the verdict of high court.

Bukhari contended that the high court gave the verdict in a haste and did not examine the facts in the matter. Justice Ijazul Ahsen, another member of the bench, observed that the learned High Court did not find any sufficient grounds of allegations against Mian Shahbaz Sharif and held that contracts seem to have been granted on merit.

Naeem Bukhari, however, contended that Mian Shahbaz Sharif was the prime architect of Ashiana scam and he in connivance with Ahad Cheema, former Director General Lahore Development Authority (LDA), allegedly awarded the contract of the project in violation of rules.

The NAB had field a reference against Ahad Cheema over charges of embezzlement in the Ashiana Housing Scheme, misuse of his authority and illegal award of Ashiana-e-Iqbal project contract worth Rs14 billion to Lahore CASA Developers.

The NAB prosecutor further submitted that Fawad Hassan Fawad was also facing a case pertaining to assets beyond known sources of income adding that he has constructed a plaza in Rawalpindi.

Bukhari said that at present Ahad Cheema is behind the bars and questioned if he is in jail then how Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Fawad Hassan Fawad could be granted bail? He informed the court that Mian Shahbaz Sharif after cancelling the first successful bidding also allegedly intervened in the second bidding process.

Naeem Bukhari submitted that the trial in the matter is in progress in accountability court wherein, evidence is being produced. Meanwhile, the court issued notices to Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Fawad Hassan Fawad for May 2 and adjourned further hearing.