–IHC CJ grills NAB over policy of arresting people ‘who are cooperating and giving answers’
ISLAMABAD: A two-member bench of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday granted bails to former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal in separate cases.
Abbasi was granted bail in the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) case while Iqbal was granted bail in the Narowal Sports City corruption case.
The court directed that Abbasi and Iqbal be released after submission of surety bonds of Rs10 million each.
In its written orders, the court said that the investigation officer may “impose such conditions as he deems appropriate” to secure cooperation and presence of the petitioners during their respective inquiries.
The hearings were presided over by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Lubna Saleem Pervez.
Chief Justice Minallah, during the hearing of the former premier’s bail petition in the LNG corruption case, remarked that the government took a grant from another country (United States) for help, and the country itself hired a firm.
“Public funds were not used for the project; USAID funds were used instead … Public Procurement Regulatory Authority rules are not applicable in this case.”
He questioned the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor about whether the foreign ministry had been asked about USAID.
The prosecutor informed the court that the watchdog was acquiring records from the ministry. He further said that Abbasi had purchased LNG at expensive rates. The chief justice then questioned the prosecutor whether NAB had researched if any company could be given the terminal’s contract at cheaper rates.
Referring to a letter submitted by the anti-graft watchdog, Justice Minallah remarked that NAB cannot mention a company providing services at a cheaper rate if it did not participate in the bidding.
The investigation officer (IO) also read out a statement from Abid Saeed, former secretary of petroleum, which stated that he had prepared the summary on Abbasi’s instructions for awarding the contract. At this, the chief justice remarked that NAB had forgiven the former secretary after taking his statement on a summary from five years ago.
The chief justice also told the IO that “these are your powers which we are talking about”.
Abbasi has been in jail for over 200 days. He was arrested by NAB in connection with an inquiry into the LNG terminal contract.
CJ GRILLS NAB:
Earlier in the day, during a hearing of former interior minister and senior PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal’s bail petition in the Narowal Sports City case, the chief justice asked the NAB prosecutor to clarify the body’s policies.
“What is your policy on arresting people or not or filing references against them? If there is a reference against someone, you have special powers.”
He questioned NAB’s move to arrest someone who “is cooperating and giving answers”.
Justice Minallah also commented that the anti-corruption body’s “power to arrest someone does not deprive the suspect of their constitutional right” and added that it is necessary to protect the individual’s right to freedom and self-respect from being violated.
The NAB prosecutor informed the court that no suspect is arrested without informing them about the case.
The chief justice then remarked that the IO could also keep conditions similar to the 12 conditions that the house of lords had kept while granting bail to a man suspected of terrorism.
“NAB’s purpose is to investigate and inquire. If a suspect is cooperating and answering questions, what reason is there for his arrest?” he questioned.
The prosecutor then remarked that Abbasi and Iqbal should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
The chief justice also observed that both the arrested leaders are representing people from their constituencies and have not become ineligible to represent the people.
“Arresting the leaders before they have been sentenced is depriving the people of their constituencies of representation”.
NAB Additional Prosecutor General Jahanzeb Bharwana while responding to the court’s question of the necessity of arresting Iqbal said that police officers have been given the power to arrest under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Section 5 of the NAB Ordinance provides the definition of a suspect.
The court remarked that if the IO has the ability to conduct an investigation, it removes the necessity for arrest and asked the anti-corruption body to satisfy the court that the IO has the ability to conduct the investigation after the arrest.
Advocate Tariq Jahangiri, representing Iqbal, argued that NAB “apparently arrests people as if kidnapping [them] for ransom”.
“NAB arrests people, asks for Rs10m for a plea bargain and then releases [them],” he added.
The chief justice observed that plea bargains happen all over the world. “The accountability of NAB will happen when people have trust in the organisation.
“NAB is not the court, it can only conduct an investigation and prosecute by presenting the evidence to the court.”
On a query from Iqbal’s lawyer, the court questioned the prosecutor whether the body can arrest someone “merely on the basis of a complaint”.
“Arrest can only happen when an inquiry is approved … you cannot arrest someone unnecessarily … it is wrongful use of power,” the court observed.
The court ordered NAB to inform the court the reason behind arrests of both Abbasi and Iqbal.
The additional prosecutor general informed the court that there are four charges against Iqbal: wrongful use of powers in the Narowal Sports City case, starting the project without a feasibility study, issuing a grant from the federal government for a provincial project after the 18th Amendment without a formal request from the Punjab Sports Board (PSB) and extension of the project’s timeline.
“There were fears of tampering records and escape in Ahsan Iqbal’s case,” he said.
The court observed that these reasons did not have any mention of “criminal intent and mala fide intentions” and they [NAB] could have put Iqbal’s name on the Exit Control List.
It also questioned whether all the approvals for the project were given by Iqbal to which Bharwana replied that the PSB had given those approvals.
The court then remarked that the person who processed this is also responsible and directed the anti-corruption body to “prove the charges during the trial and get a punishment for 16 years’ imprisonment.”
It also observed that “investigation can be done outside [the jail].”
Earlier this month, the IHC had given a last chance to NAB for formally contesting the bail petitions filed by Abbasi and Iqbal.