The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) on Monday asked the federal government to explain whether the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Investigation Agency's (FIA) Anti-Corruption Wing share the same powers or not.

Justice Shaikh Azmat Saeed, part of the two-member bench hearing the case, said "NAB is facilitating corruption in the country" by allowing wrongdoers to opt for NAB's voluntary return scheme.

Earlier in October 2016, the apex court took suo moto notice and barred NAB from accepting offers of voluntary return on ill-gotten money by a wrongdoer under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999.

It later issued notices to the Attorney General of Pakistan and the advocates general of the four provinces, among others, to explain why, as per NAB's remarks, "the provincial and federal governments did not take action against those who benefitted from the voluntary return and plea bargain schemes under the NAB law".

SC in conversation with NAB, federal govt

Justice Saeed wondered why a person accused of corruption worth Rs2.5 billion gets away with it by opting for NAB's voluntary return scheme, while someone who commits corruption of a much lower amount is condemned to serving time in jail.

Justice Amir Hani Muslim, who headed the bench, too reprimanded NAB for taking undue advantage of the voluntary return provision and said "even if a court approves it, the decision should be challenged".

The counsel for NAB, however, regretted that even though NAB had tackled someone involved in a corruption case worth Rs40 billion, the media "blew [the plea bargain deal] out of proportion".

"The budget of the entire Balochistan province was not worth Rs40 billion," the counsel noted.

Read more: Bureaucrat facing Rs40bn corruption charges ‘cleared’

Justice Saeed went on to say that NAB basically advertises in newspapers, telling people involved in corruption that they can "get away with it" by opting for voluntary return. "NAB is facilitating corruption in the country."

The counsel for NAB, replying to the criticism, said that the accountability bureau itself did not devise the provision of voluntary return.

The attorney general, speaking on behalf of the federal government, told the court that a committee headed by the federal law minister is investigating the provision of voluntary return under NAO.

He further said that NAB wrote letters addressing electricity defaulters.

To which, Justice Hani remarked that with the speed the things are moving, it seems that it will take at least a year to get the work done.

The counsel for NAB then apprised the court that the government had asked the bureau to address power defaulters and recover the dues.

To which, Justice Saeed inquired according to what law had the government wrote to NAB. "Is NAB a recovery officer?"

He further said that people who opt for voluntary return essentially confess to the crime. "Then how can such a government official [who admits to the corruption charges brought against them] remain in office?"

Justice Saeed was of the view that NAB should address its issues with media outside the court.

The hearing was adjourned for two weeks and a three-member bench will be hearing the case from now.

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