Tuesday January 18, 2022

Fruits of NAB amendments: Key figures become first recipients of bails from ACs

November 23, 2021
Fruits of NAB amendments: Key figures become first recipients of bails from ACs

ISLAMABAD: Prominent Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Syed Khurshid Shah’s son Farrukh has turned out to be the first detainee of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in 21 years who has been granted bail by an accountability court (AC) courtesy of the amendments in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999.

Three days later, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the Sharif Group of Companies Muhammad Usman, who is a co-accused of leader of opposition leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and his sons, has been given bail by a Lahore accountability court. He was arrested by the NAB more than a year back. It was alleged that he aided and abetted by managing a network for laundering funds disproportionate to the known sources of income of Shehbaz Sharif, Hamza, Suleman and other family members.

Khurshid Shah had also been bailed out by such an accountability court but its order had been quickly quashed by a Sindh High Court (SHC) bench on the ground that the accountability court has no such power under the NAO.

Even when the fate of the amendments in the NAO, done by the government through two presidential ordinances, hangs in the balance because of a gridlock between the government and the opposition parties, Farrukh got their significant fruit after remaining behind bars for five months. He took the benefit five weeks after the relevant ordinance was promulgated on Oct 6.

It changed Section 9 of the NAO, which ousted the jurisdiction of all courts including the superior judiciary from giving bails to those arrested by the NAB. However, the accused persons had been approaching the concerned high court invoking its special writ powers and getting relief.

In case of refusal, they had been going to the Supreme Court. The result is that all the high-profile opposition politicians, who had been incarcerated by the NAB, had earned bails after spending protracted imprisonments.

The amendment said that no court other than the accountability court under the NAO will have the power or the jurisdiction to grant bail to or otherwise release an accused person in a case triable by an accountability court.

The Supreme Court has held more than once that the accountability courts should be empowered to hear bail pleas so that the superior courts are not unnecessarily burdened with such requests.

The second ordinance issued three weeks after the first one had deleted a clause, which has been rejected and dubbed by legal experts as harsh, discriminatory and encroaching on the powers of the courts. It had provided that the amount of surety in case of bail will be fixed having regard to the gravity of the charge against such person and where the charge specifies any amount in respect of which the offence is alleged to have been committed, the surety amount will not be less than that sum.

Farrukh, who is a member of the Sindh Assembly, is fortunate to have got bail just after five months’ confinement unlike his unlucky father, who had to undergo a lengthy judicial process in the superior judiciary to secure it and that too after 25 months.

Meanwhile, utter confusion and uncertainty grips accountability courts about the question as to which NAB references are to be heard by them and which cases are to be sent to other departments, tribunals, commissions and courts as per the new ordinances to deal with them under the concerned law.

The accountability courts have been inundated with applications from the accused persons with requests to transfer their cases to other forums as specified by the ordinances. Their presiding officers are not taking up such requests for disposal till the situation becomes absolutely clear to them through some explanation by the NAB or the federal law ministry. Sometime back, the NAB had sought a clarification from the law ministry about the issue.

An Islamabad accountability court, headed by Muhammad Bashir, has asked through a letter for a list of cases from the NAB chairman that needed to be withdrawn from him or disposed of. He noted that the accused persons were filing acquittal petitions under the ordinance. Therefore, it would be appropriate to provide a list of cases to be withdrawn so that the time of the court can be saved.

The ordinance provides that the NAO would not be applicable to matters pertaining to federal, provincial or local taxation, other levies or imports including refunds or loss of exchequer pertaining to taxation. Procedural lapses in any public or governmental work, project or scheme, unless it is shown that a holder of public office or any other person has been conferred or has received any monetary or other material benefits from that particular public or governmental work, whether directly or indirectly, have also been exempted from the purview of the NAB law.