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ISLAMABAD: Taking exception to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman’s frequent use of his authority to approve the voluntary return of embezzled money by offenders, Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali suggested on Wednesday that the benefit of the provision should be extended to the ordinary criminals as well so that overcrowding in prisons could be dealt with.

“The scope of the voluntary return of embezzled money by offenders should be extended in a way that an arrested thief is thanked and released once he gives back the stolen goods,” the chief justice said during a hearing in a suo motu case.

“This will also help end overcrowding of criminals in jails,” he said rather sarcastically.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Jamali was hearing the suo motu case initiated on the observations made by Justice Amir Hani Muslim, who had criticised the powers enjoyed by the NAB chairman under Section 25(a) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999. The powers allow the NAB chief to let the accused go without any stigma after they return a portion of the embezzled money.

Section 25(a) of the NAB Ordinance, Justice Muslim had observed, prima facie seemed to be in conflict with the Constitution and, therefore, the vires of the provision needed to be examined.

The absence of Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf Ali from the hearing, despite earlier orders to attend it, also disturbed the court.

Additional Attorney General Muham­mad Waqar Rana informed the court that the AG was abroad in connection with the water dispute between India and Pakistan. At this the bench suggested that the AG should settle abroad permanently because he was always absent when a case of public interest or involving fundamental rights of citizens was heard.

Justice Muslim had also described as misconduct the joining of offices by the people who were accused of plundering colossal sums of money after depositing a portion of the embezzled money.

Mr Rana explained that according to a preliminary report of the Establishment Division, those who had joined services after voluntarily depositing the embezzled money could not be prosecuted further.

He, however, hastened to add that a five-member parliamentary committee working under the chairmanship of Naveed Qamar was studying the National Account­ability Ordinance so that it might propose amendments to the law. The bench observed that it was an old practice to appoint an inquiry committee or commission to prolong a matter and to avoid judicial resolution of the issue.

The court, however, asked the federal and provincial governments to furnish comprehensive lists of persons, civil servants or public servants of relevant departments of the government or state-owned organisations, who had entered into voluntary return scheme of NAB and then rejoined the services.

The court postponed proceedings of the case till Oct 24 with a warning that no further adjournment would be allowed.

Earlier, the court sought help of the AG, NAB chairman and NAB prosecutor general in settling certain principles regarding powers of the NAB chief.

Justice Muslim had underlined the need for laying down certain principles regarding cognisance of NAB in corruption matters under Section 9 of the Natio­nal Accountability Ordin­an­ce, with an observation that frequent exercise of powers to allow voluntary return of looted money by the NAB chairman had in fact served to multiply corruption on the one hand and defeat the very objective of the ordinance on the other.

Published in Dawn September 29th, 2016

Comments (9) Closed

All-is-well Sep 29, 2016 08:13am

The concept of plea bargain is an old one,and had been in practice in developed nations. There are arguments in favour and against both in law history.It is hoped that our SC will order the best judgement in interest of Pakistan.

Shaukat Ali Khan Sep 29, 2016 08:16am

"Voluntary Return" or "Plea Bargain" both should be considered as convictions. The criminals involved must be removed from the public offices as well as made ineligible to participate in politics.

Shaukat Ali Khan Sep 29, 2016 08:32am

At this point of time, water problem supersedes all national interests.

Ahsan Sep 29, 2016 08:38am

What about a little shame

Kashif Sep 29, 2016 09:04am

It's all talk by the SC. Sarcasm sounded great for talking points. They will not do anything to those who plunder the wealth of this country EVER!

Gabbar is back Sep 29, 2016 09:34am

“This will also help end overcrowding of criminals in jails”. and I thought our judges did not have a sense of humour.

JUSTICE Sep 29, 2016 09:56am

The NAB laws we are deliberty written to protect politician's white color crimes. If NAB were under Supreme Court instead of PML-N government, NAB chairman decision would have been different.

WASEEM ASHRAF Sep 29, 2016 10:59am

In my opinion , if this is the NAB law then we should make it a policy nationwide that everybody is free to steal and if found by LEWs then return 20% of money and no further questioning and if not found Have Fun . Why only big stellar get benefit and small ones don't .We all should get this advantage. Once this law is approved , I will also try to steal as there is no risk even if caught you still have 80% and if amount is big settle abroad.

Baaligh Sep 29, 2016 11:20am

Embezzled money r turned but the persons should be fully treated as culprits and tainted and not be allowed to resume same position(s).... not even any other lower position.