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January 25, 2020

SHC grants bail to four men named co-accused in NAB case

Karachi

January 25, 2020

The Sindh High Court on Friday granted bail to four more men who were alleged to be involved in a Rs5.78 billion corruption reference in which a former provincial minister and others are being tried in an accountability court.

Salman Mansoor, Inam Akbar, Syed Naveed and Umer Shahzad were booked by NAB along with former information minister Sharjeel Inam Memon, information department officials and advertisement agencies’ representatives in the corruption reference on charges of misuse of authority for the award of advertisements of provincial government’s awareness campaigns and causing losses to the national exchequer.

The petitioners’ counsel submitted that the high court had already granted bail to the other defendants, including Memon and information department officials, and they should be granted bail on rule of consistency and grounds of hardship as the petitioners had all now been in prison for over two years and the trial was nowhere in sight of conclusion.

NAB’s special prosecutor opposed the bail petitions of the petitioners, submitting that the petitioners had failed to make out any case of bail on hardship grounds.

A division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha observed that on the bail petition of Memon, some material had come to light which indicated that rates so charged by the advertising agencies might not have been so exorbitant as alleged, which made his case for further inquiry. The court observed that such new information regarding the rates being charged by the advertising agencies potentially not being so exorbitant would also apply to the petitioner and their case was on the same footing as that of Memon and other information department officials; therefore, they were entitled to bail on the rule of consistency.

It however expressed concern over the halt in the trial proceedings before the accountability court for the last five months due to the non-appointment of a new presiding officer.

The court observed that only two out of four accountability courts were functional in Karachi, which was massively overburdened and two of the courts had been vacant at least the last four months despite the names of the judges having been recommended by the chief justice of the SHC.

The court observed that the federal government failed to appoint judges for the accountability courts for reasons best known to itself, and this led to trials before the accountability courts in Karachi becoming endless, with the accused in many cases rotting behind bars for years because their cases were not proceeding expeditiously.

The court observed that question arises whether the court will need to step in its constitutional jurisdiction to safeguard the rights of those behind bars since in its view Article 10A also guarantees the right of an expeditious trial notwithstanding the provisions in the National Accountability Ordinance to this effect.

It further observed that it is the duty of the state to prosecute the accused expeditiously and if it by implication fails in this duty by not appointing accountability court judges in a timely fashion then it may be left to the court to step in so as to safeguard the fundamental rights of the citizens. The court observed that we in an Islamic welfare state based on the rule of the law cannot turn a blind eye to such failings of the state in so far as the liberty of the person is concerned.

The court granted bail to the petitioners with a surety of Rs10 million each and directed the ministry of interior to place the names of the petitioners on the exit control list.

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