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October 9, 2019

Physical remand of NAB accused: Accountability courts exercise discretion


October 9, 2019

ISLAMABAD: With the exception of two prominent bureaucrats, the accountability courts all over Pakistan have universally turned down the requests of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for extension of physical remand period of top politicians, arrested by the anti-graft agency, to keep them in custody for ninety days.

A duo of senior bureaucrats - Fawad Hassan Fawad, the former Principal Secretary to ex-Premier Nawaz Sharif, and Ahad Cheema - spent ninety days in the NAB custody and the concerned accountability courts kept extending their physical remand till the exhaustion of maximum duration of ninety days. Fawad Hassan was arrested on July 5, 2018 and sent on judicial remand, meaning jail ending the NAB custody on October 2. Cheema was apprehended by the NAB on Feb 21, 2018 and was dispatched to prison on June 20.

Among all politicians belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), two stalwarts of the ruling party spent minimum time in the NAB custody on physical remand.

Aleem Khan, arrested on Feb 6, 2019 in connection with the offshore company, owning assets beyond his known sources of income etc., was questioned by the anti-corruption agency for one month. He was sent to jail on judicial remand on March 5. The Lahore High Court (LHC) granted him bail ten days later on March 15. At the time of his arrest, he was the senior minister in Punjab, an official post he immediately quitted after the NAB caught him.

Sibtain Khan was also a minister in the Punjab and resigned following his arrest by the NAB on June 15 this year. He was dispatched to the prison on July 5 by the accountability court after he passed only 19 days, the lowest duration among the NAB accused, on physical remand with the NAB. The LHC bailed him out on Sept 19. He was apprehended in a case related to the 2007 award of contracts for extraction of minerals in Chiniot. At the time, he was the Minister for Mines and Minerals of the PML-Q.

PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz was allowed by the accountability court to be in the NAB custody for eighty-four days, the maximum period compared to the duration of physical remand of all politicians. He was confined on June 11 this year and sent on judicial remand on September 4. He is yet to approach the LHC for grant of bail.

His father Shahbaz Sharif, who is the PML-N President and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, was captured by the NAB on October 5, 2018 and sent to jail on judicial remand on December 6 after remaining sixty-two days in the NAB custody. He was later bailed out by the LHC.

PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz and her cousin Yousuf Abbas were kept in the NAB lockup for forty-eight days. They were arrested on August 8 and sent on judicial remand on September 25. She has now knocked at the door of the LHC for grant of bail.

Former Prime Minister and PML-N Senior Vice President Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, ex-Finance Minister Miftah Ismail and former Pakistan State Oil Chief Imranul Haq were confined by the NAB on July 18 and remanded to jail by the accountability court on September 26. They spent seventy-one days in the NAB custody.

During his recurrent production before the accountability court for extension of his physical remand, Abbasi repeatedly urged the judge to hand him over to the NAB custody for ninety days in one go as he is not opposing its extension to any length of time. He has announced that he will not go to the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to get bail.

PPP co-chairman and former President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur passed sixty-six days in the NAB custody before dispatched to the Adiala Jail Rawalpindi on judicial remand. They were held by the NAB on June 20 after the IHC declined their request for extension of interim bail and sent on judicial remand on August 16.

Zardari too has been asking the accountability judge during his production by the NAB before him that his custody should be given to the anti-corruption watchdog for ninety days at the same time. Senior PML-N leaders, the Khawaja brothers, Saad Rafique and Salman Rafique, remained with the NAB on physical remand for fifty-one days. They were seized by the NAB on December 11, 2018 and were sent on judicial remand on February 2 this year. They haven’t so far gone to the LHC for bail.

Sindh Assembly Speaker and PPP leader Agha Siraj Durrani passed fifty days in the NAB custody. He was apprehended on February 20 this year from an Islamabad hotel and sent to the judicial remand by a Karachi accountability court on April 12. His bail plea is yet to be decided by the Sindh High Court.

The NAB kept questioning PML-N leader Eng. Qamarul Islam for thirty-nine days before he was sent to the prison on judicial remand. He was held by the NAB on June 26, 2018, a month before the general elections, and ordered on August 4 to be kept in jail. He was contesting for the two national and provincial seats of Rawalpindi. The NAB prosecutors across Pakistan have always given a similar set of arguments in accountability courts while seeking extension of physical custody of the accused persons. They claim that the NAB investigations were incomplete so far and more time was required for their conclusion. In many cases, accountability judges have told them that when they have not been able to wrap up their job for months, they just want to keep the accused in the NAB lockup more.

The 90-day physical remand is provided in Section 24 of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), a duration that has been widely denounced by the opposition and government leaders alike. The provision says such accused persons shall, having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case, be liable to be detained in the NAB custody for the purpose of inquiry and investigation for a period not exceeding ninety days and the accountability court may remand him to custody not more than fifteen days at a time and for every subsequent remand it shall record reasons in writing copy of which shall be sent to the concerned high court.

Even before Federal Law Minister Dr Farogh Nasim’s announcement to make the reduction of the period of physical remand period from ninety to fifty days part of the package of amendments to be made in the NAO, the accountability courts are refusing extension of the physical custody of the accused to the NAB for a total length of ninety days.

The Law Minister’s proposal apart, the opposition parties and lawyers have stressed that the physical remand period should be similar to other cases including the most heinous crime like murder and that there should not be any discriminatory treatment with the NAB accused. Talks will be held among the parliamentary players on this critical aspect when the package will be brought before the legislature. Legal experts opine that the NAO doesn’t provide for mandatory arrest of an accused by the NAB if he is cooperating in an inquiry or investigation but if he is avoiding assistance or is feared to escape abroad, he may be detained. “When an accountability court rejects the NAB plea for extension of physical remand, it in fact comes to the conclusion that it is not satisfied with the request and the investigation conducted by the agency so far,” former NAB deputy prosecutor Zulfikar Ahmed Bhutta says.

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