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Pak SC flays NAB for “discrimination with individuals”

Nation special report

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s premier accountability institution the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been criticised by the country’s highest judiciary body the Supreme Court on Thursday (December 17) what the apex court termed for ‘selectively applying its law on individuals.’

The SC issued the remarks while hearing a bail plea filed by Dr. Dinshaw and Jameel Baloch in a fake bank accounts case registered against them. During the hearing, Justice Umar Ata Bandial said that the court is not satisfied with NAB’s performance in the present case as the discrimination looks obvious clear and crystal. “A person is in jail for 20 months, while the main accused is roaming freely,” observed Justice Bandial.

The Supreme Court directed the NAB to submit a policy on the arrest of all the accused within two weeks and directed the bureau to take action against the other accused in accordance with the law and with transparency. Expressing dissatisfaction over NAB’s performance in the case, Justice Umar Ata Bandial remarked that one person has been in jail for 20 months while no action has been taken against the main characters.

He remarked that some people are arrested on minor charges and some go free even after committing a serious crime. After two and a half years, several accused were granted bail by the Supreme Court for not filing a reference.

Justice Umer Atta Bandial

In response, NAB’s prosecutor said that the accountability watchdog has only arrested those individuals who either refused to cooperate with the authorities or rejected a plea bargain. “NAB’s attitude, in this case, shows partiality,” said Justice Sajjad Ali Shah upon hearing the comments of NAB’s lawyer. He added that the bureau’s attitude reflects its mindset.

Justice Mazhar Ali Akber, who was also part of the hearing, said that the bureau arrested an elderly person like Dr Dinshaw but let 27 others go scot-free. “This is the reason why everyone is talking about NAB [negatively] all day long,” said Justice Akber.

Justice Bandial agreed and said that due to the actions of the accountability watchdog, businessmen have stopped coming in Pakistan because of apprehensions. “Pakistan should learn from the example of Japan where law and accountability go hand in hand,” he said.

Addressing NAB’s prosecutor, the court said that the bureau arrested a man from a motorway, making it seem as if he was about to flee the country. In response, NAB’s prosecutor said that the bureau did not arrest him.

“Apart from you and the chairman of NAB, name one person who praises the bureau,” Justice Sajjad Ali Shah asked the prosecutor, adding that the accused NAB authorities arrested are mere “puppets”.

The court also observed that the bureau also failed to explain the reason for not arresting 27 other people who have been accused in the fake bank accounts case. “Some are arrested for petty accusations but some roam freely despite committing major crimes,” said justice Bandial. “Public office holders should be held accountable. NAB is applying its laws selectively.”

Earlier on December 8, while hearing a petition filed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Hamza Shehbaz, the Supreme Court felt gave summons for the details of all pending National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases in Lahore due to the slow progress displayed by the anti-graft body.

Justice Mushir Alam headed the three-member bench which heard the petition filed by the PML-N leader. During the course of the hearing, Amjad Pervaiz, Hamza’s lawyer, pointed out that while Hamza had been arrested on June 11 2019, no reference had been filed against him until August of this year, and that Hamza had been indicted on November 11 2020.

Furthermore, Pervaiz pointed out that NAB had only recorded three statements from the 110 witnesses originally listed.

When the justice questioned anti-graft body in regard to this case, which pertained to 23 fake accounts, NAB’s counsel, Additional Prosecutor Imranul Haq replied that it would take six months to gather all the witness statements. He further explained that this was due to the fact that many of the witnesses were in the employee of the Sharif family, and it was hard to get cooperation.

Justice Alam asked the bureau why other accused in the case have not been arrested yet. “They have been declared absconders,” said Haq. To this, Justice Masood observed that the anti-graft watchdog “arrests one and lets other accused roam free”.

“One day, we will summon all NAB filed and check daily proceedings. The bureau has locked up people. It is unfair,” he remarked, as the court sought details of all pending NAB cases.

Last week, the SC had observed that the NAB had been misusing its power and harassing those accused in cases, particularly those involved in white-collar crimes. Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who had been heading the bench at the apex court, had said: “NAB should not harass the suspects, nor misuse its powers.”

The bench had observed that those charged in white-collar crimes had been detained for 90 days in every reference, whereas even in military cases, no more than a 40-day remand is granted. “Why does it not then complete its investigation and file a single reference?” Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar had asked.