The Supreme Court on Monday stopped the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from accepting offers of the voluntary return of ill-gotten money by a wrongdoer under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Anwar Zaheer Jamali took suo motu notice of the issue in September and had constituted a three-member bench to hear the case.

Justice Jamali in his remarks observed that NAB offers criminals the option to return ill-gotten money through instalments. "Criminals are told they can pay the first instalment, and then earn and continue to pay it back," he added.

Justice Amir Hani Muslim observed that officers who exercise voluntary return remain at their positions, and many MNAs and MPAs are among those who do so. In order to save themselves from litigation, such people collude with NAB, he said.

The apex court also asked NAB to submit details on the voluntary return of illegally-earned funds over the past 10 years.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed stated "NAB asks criminals to make voluntary returns," and that amendment of NAB laws is underway and will continue in court.

"Section 25-A of the NAB Ordinance is not meant to increase corruption but to decrease it," Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali said.

The hearing has been adjourned till November 7.

This is not the first time that the term ‘voluntary return’ has been mentioned by the apex court.

Earlier former chief justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, in an order issued by him on July 22, 2015 as the senior judge, had asked NAB in the mega scandal case to provide a breakdown of the amount of Rs262 billion claimed to have been recovered by the bureau from 2008 to 2015 on the basis of voluntary return or plea bargain.

The latest suo motu notice was taken by the SC a note of its registrar forwarded to the chief justice, in which he mentioned the Sept 2 observations made by Justice Amir Hani Muslim while heading a two-judge bench in Karachi hearing an appeal filed by NAB.

He had deplored the powers of the NAB chairman under Section 25(a) of the NAO since through its use the accu­sed went scot-free without any stigma after voluntary return of embezzled money.

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