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April 10, 2020

Disturbing vendetta

Editorial

 
April 10, 2020

It appears to have become regular practice by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to use repeated extensions in physical remand as a tool of punishment to those in its custody – even if there is no solid case to be made. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, editor-in-chief of the Jang/Geo Group, has been under NAB detention since March 12, and up until now no substantial progress has been made in the case. Since the purported case is about a private property deal concluded 34 years ago between two private parties, there is no justification of NAB getting involved in all this. On the one side, NAB keeps claiming that its primary mandate is to pursue mega corruption cases in the country, and on the other it picks up cases at will even if they don’t fall into the category assigned to it. As the defence council has argued in court, unless NAB brings any shred of evidence, its position remains implausible and weak. And according to all decent legal practices around the world, an accused is considered innocent unless he or she is proven guilty.

There are multiple loopholes in the NAB proceedings in this case. First, this is not a case that falls under NAB jurisdiction. Even if you stretch your imagination to an unlikely point, there should have been some ground to prove that this is actually NAB’s realm; it is not. Second, all documents pertaining to this property deal are in the public domain, and NAB has also taken control of all related files from the LDA itself. Then, NAB has also not mentioned any document that needs to be recovered from Mir Shakil. The glaring contradictions in NAB’s position can be gauged from the shifting stances it has taken in the court. First it informed the court that documentary proof had been shared with the NAB chairman via fax. Then, it changed its position by saying that the chairman was briefed via a video link. NAB was neither able to show the fax nor could it produce any video recording in court. Moreover, if there was any discrepancy in the aforementioned transaction of 1986, it was the LDA that should have been concerned or could have filed a case. In this matter, the LDA is not even a concerned party.

If there was any unpaid amount, the LDA could have initiated its own procedure and invoked its own laws to recover the disputed amount. The LDA Act is pretty clear about how to initiate such proceedings and how complainants and respondents would be brought to an appropriate forum for redress of such complaints. Since there is no evidence of any corruption in this deal, NAB has resorted to technicalities of the transaction and is trying to base its case on insignificant points. This brings us to one of the most glaring issues regarding the way NAB has operated. According to most legal minds, NAB’s sweeping powers almost border on the draconian side – particularly the way it can use remand and the denial of bail almost as a weapon. Since the case is still in a trial court, one good aspect of the LHC order is that it has kept the door open for further appeal. The LHC has categorically mentioned that it can be approached again for bail at an appropriate moment. There is no apparent reason for keeping Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman under continued detention without bail, apart from some unknown grudge NAB may have against this media group. As the law takes its course, we hope that the truth prevails and this entire façade comes tumbling down. As it is, it is a travesty that this facade is still continuing.