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April 23, 2019

Asghar Khan case won’t be closed: Murder or other case, no one makes confessions, says SC

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April 23, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday questioned who makes confessions to inquiry officers, be it a murder or any other case. It ruled to implement its verdict in letter and spirit in the 24-year-old case of former Air Marshal Asghar Khan relating to the distribution of Rs140 million among politicians for defeating late Benazir Bhutto in 1990 general elections.

The court expressed dissatisfaction over the supplementary report submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency confining itself only to the summary of the instant case. The SC rejected reports of government institutions observing that this is no argument that the accused have denied taking money.

The court said that there was no justification that the accused had refused to accept money and that every accused refuses when police ask him (about his crime). The court questioned as to who confesses (to his crime) during investigation. The SC asked whether a case would be closed if an accused denies during investigation of murder or any other crime.

On April 02, the court had ruled to continue with the 24-year-old case and had directed the FIA to submit a supplementary report, stating from wherethe relevant documentary evidence record could be obtained in the matter in hand.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, resumed hearing in the case of non-implementation of its October 19, 2012 judgment in the Asghar Khan case.

FIA Director General Bashir Memon, Brigadier Falak Naz, representing the Ministry of Defense, and Salman Akram Raja, counsel for family members of former Air Marshal Asghar Khan, appeared before the court. The court observed that the FIA in its supplementary report provided only summary of the matter in hand and did not give or mention statements of witnesses.

The court directed the FIA to submit statements of the witnesses adding that even it could be submitted in sealed envelope and if needed it will be unveiled. The FIA in its report again suggested to the apex court to wind up the instant matter for lack of sufficient evidence.

In its conclusion, the FIA submitted that in pursuance of the apex court’s direction, the Inquiry Committee interviewed journalists namely Habib Akram and Mujeebur Rehman Shami and other key witnesses, Brigadier (retd) Hamid Saeed Akhtar and Advocate Yousaf Memon, besides conducting scrutiny of the cover accounts, and has reached the conclusion that no sufficient evidence could be found to enable this case for further prosecution and trial in the court of law.

It was also submitted that the inquiry committee tried to contact senior journalist Arif Nizami and Nasim Zehra and they were sent summons; however, they did not respond. Similarly, the court was informed that the inquiry committee also contacted heads of four financial institutions (banks) for ascertaining the details of accounts from which politicians were given money in 1996; however, these banks did not respond as well.

Later on, the inquiry committee contacted the heads of banks in Karachi adding that as per the inquiry committee findings, details pertaining to two accounts of the United Bank were not collected while the Muslim Commercial Bank gave information only to the extent of opening and closing of one account as well.

Similarly, the inquiry committee got one account each from Muslim Commercial Bank as well as Pakistan National Bank but no useful information could be attained from these.

During the course of hearing, Salman Akram Raja, counsel for Asghar Khan family, pleaded the court to examine also the report submitted by Ministry of Defence, adding that Brigadier (retd) Hamid Saeed had admitted that the amount was distributed among the politicians. Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed said they will look into it later on. He inquired as to whether the affidavits given by the witnesses had named the people who had received the money. The deputy attorney general submitted that they denied getting the money.

In its report, the Ministry of Defence informed the apex court that the Court of Inquiry (C of I) in the instant case is in progress. It submitted that six witnesses have been examined so far and efforts are in hand to trace and call other witnesses as well adding that all material witnesses including civilians would be examined by the Court of Inquiry. “It is respectfully submitted that all out efforts are being made to finalise the proceedings as per rules and regulations”, the Ministry of Defence added.

Meanwhile, the court gave FIA four more weeks to submit a comprehensive report. In 1996, Asghar Khan had moved the Supreme Court, alleging that the two senior army officers and the then-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan had doled out Rs140 million among several politicians ahead of the 1990 polls to ensure Benazir Bhutto's defeat in the polls.

Khan had approached the apex court after senior PPP leader and former Interior Minister Maj Gen (retd) Naseerullah Babar had claimed in the National Assembly in 1994 that the ISI had disbursed funds to "purchase" the loyalty of politicians and public figures so as to manipulate the 1990 elections, forming the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) to defeat the PPP.

The IJI, consisting of nine parties including the Pakistan Muslim League, National Peoples Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, had won the 1990 elections, with Nawaz Sharif being elected prime minister. The alliance had been formed to oppose the Benazir Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party.

On October 19, 2012, the apex court had issued a 141-page verdict, ordering legal proceedings against Gen (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg and Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani in a case filed 16 years ago by former air chief Air Marshal Asghar Khan.

The 2012 apex court judgment, authored by the then-Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry, had ruled that the 1990 general elections had been polluted by dishing out Rs140 million to a particular group of politicians only to deprive the people of being represented by their chosen representatives. The court had directed the FIA to initiate a transparent investigation and subsequent trial if sufficient evidence is found against the former army officers.

Last year, the FIA had recommended to the court closure of the instant matter, saying no legally accepted evidence is available with the Agency on the basis of which criminal case may be initiated against the alleged politicians, hence case merits closure.

It had informed the court that the accurate amount given to politicians is not visible, even the concerned banks did not provide the requisite record appropriately at this belated stage – after 24 years while the GHQ, which is conducting its own probe, is yet to inform the FIA of anything.

The FIA had submitted that it is a settled rule of jurisprudence that in absence of the corroboratory evidence conviction cannot be based on hearsay. Persons seemingly acquainted with facts and circumstances of subject case could not even provide the leads that may have helped the Federal investigation Agency in collaboration of sufficient evidence, the report had stated.

It had further contended that the accurate amount given to politicians is not visible, even the concerned banks did not provide the requisite record appropriately at this belated stage i-e after 24 years while the GHQ, which is conducting its own probe, is yet to inform the FIA.

Last year in December the court had issued notices to the legal heirs of Asghar Khan for their view point after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) recommended closure of the inquiry for initiating action against politicians who allegedly received money from the country’s premier intelligence agency ahead of the 1990 general elections.

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