The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to register a second criminal case against Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, raising the pressure on the government as it nears the end of its term in office.
Last week, the apex court had ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Ashraf in connection with a corruption investigation that dates back to energy projects commissioned when he was water and power minister.
The second case relates to the former head of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, Tauqir Sadiq, who fled abroad after being accused of embezzling Rs 83 billion in kickbacks and commissions.
A two-member bench comprising Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain was informed by NAB officials that the prime minister had appointed Sadiq as OGRA chairman while Interior Minister Rehman Malik and PPP Secretary General Jahangir Badr, Leader of the House in Senate and Sadiq’s brother-in-law, allegedly helped him escape the country.
The bench also directed the officials concerned that reference against those government functionaries who were included in the selection committee, including the prime minister, should be filed before January 31.
It also directed for filing of another reference under Section 31 of the National Accountability Ordinance against all those persons identified in the NAB report for facilitating the absconder and asked for their trial under the said section.
The bench, hearing an implementation case of its decision of November 11, 2011, over Sadiq’s illegal appointment, ordered that both references should be moved before January 31.
The bench noted that no justification or explanation was offered by NAB for the delay in filing the reference.
However, the bench accepted a request of NAB officials for a week’s time, enabling them to file the required references for sake of justice.
Justice Khilji Arif Hussain remarked that “NAB only apprehends poor people, not the high ups”.
Justice Jawad S Khawaja observed that not “arresting culprits is the sole motto of NAB”.
The NAB director, however, told the court that Rehman Malik and Jahangir Badr were involved in allowing Sadiq to flee from the country.
“A report is ready for evolving reference against them and this has yet to be signed only by the chairman. Investigations are underway against Prime Minister Ashraf in connection with Sadiq’s illegal appointment.”
Justice Khilji observed that “if these persons are involved, forget that the NAB chairman will be signing the report”.
Earlier during the course of proceedings, Justice Khawaja directed NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Chaudhry Mazhar Ali to give an explanation for not taking any step for filing of the references so far, as more than a year had lapsed after a decision by the court.
Ali requested that a month’s time might be granted to the investigation team to complete the task. Expressing his displeasure, Justice Khawaja told him that they were ready to grant them 10 months but they should first give an explanation and if their reply was in negative, they would proceed in the matter.
The NAB official said Investigation Officer Waqar Ahmed had been in Dubai with relevant documents and requested that time might be granted until his arrival.
Upon the bench’s insistence, Irfan Baig, a NAB official, requested for a week’s time for filing the references. He said certain personalities had been identified in the NAB report that had not cooperated in the issue.
Replying to another question, he said reference over Sadiq’s illegal appointment was completed and submitted on January 11, but it was not yet approved by the competent authority.
FIA Director Legal Azam Khan apprised the bench that they would get proof of Sadiq travelling to Dubai through an airline. The bench also disposed of a plea moved by Sameera Abasi Marri, wife of Kamal Marri, an accused official in Sadiq’s appointment issue, by directing her to approach the proper forum for seeking his bail.
The bench told her that courts were independent in the country and she should not nurture certain apprehensions that due to media hype, her husband would not be released.
Justice Khawaja told NAB officials that there should be no pick and choose policy against the accused. Sameera maintained that other accused were given a free hand whereas her husband had been hounded throughout the world due to media hype.
Justice Jawwad reminded her that they were all in the public domain and the media was free to say many things.
“We learnt from media reports that courts were blamed for corruption; we are not sacred cows,” he added.
Justice Khilji Arif Hussain observed that the courts were not being influenced by such media reports. Justice Khawaja also reminded the petitioner that the apex court had not issued any arrest warrant for her husband and if any Accountability Court had done it, she should approach the proper forum. The bench adjourned further hearing until January 31.