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ISLAMABAD: National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal, who had been called to brief the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice on the bureau’s move to initiate an inquiry into alleged money laundering to India by PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, skipped the meeting on Wednesday.

A NAB representative told the committee that the bureau got the invitation very late and the chairman was already committed somewhere else. The NA committee decided to hold the next meeting on May 22 giving ample time to the NAB chairman to come prepared.

“The chairman has not refused to attend the meeting. We received the invitation very late. Moreover, the chairman was already committed somewhere else. He will appear in the next meeting. Some time should be given [to him] so that the chairman would come prepared,” said the NAB representative while attending the committee meeting.

Another meeting of the NA body on law and justice scheduled for next week on NAB’s request

The chairman of the NA standing committee, Chaudhary Mohammad Ashraf, initially suggested that the next meeting should be convened on Friday (May 18). However, at the request of the NAB representative, it was decided to hold the next meeting on Tuesday.

NAB had last week issued a press release stating that it had decided to investigate a media report alleging that Mr Sharif and others were involved in money laundering of $4.9 billion to India.

Mr Sharif rejected the allegation and sought resignation of the NAB chairman, while Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi criticised the bureau on the floor of the National Assembly. MNA Rana Hayat Khan also spoke about it and the matter was finally referred to the law and justice committee that decided to call the NAB chairman for briefing.

Referring to Article 19 of the Constitution that says state is responsible to ensure dignity of every person, the committee’s chairman asked how the statement had been released, which caused damage to the reputation of a person who remained the premier thrice.

However, PTI legislator Dr Arif Alvi intervened and declared it a tactic to pressurise the NAB chairman.

“Justice Javed Iqbal should not be called in such a situation and it should not be made precedent that he can be called to seek explanation about case of an individual. We should allow the institutions to function. Unfortunately, after the Panama case the same thing happened with the Federal Board of Revenue, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and other institutions. This is the reason that members of the committee, who belong to the PPP, have resigned,” he argued.

Minister of State for Finance Rana Mohammad Afzal Khan said it was a wrong argument that the NAB chairman would come under pressure if called by the standing committee.

“Parliament can call any person because it is supreme. Parliaments continue to function even during wars and there is nothing wrong in calling Mr Iqbal,” he said.

PML-N legislator Mian Abdul Mannan said that as the NAB chairman had participated in Public Accounts Committee meetings, he could be called again.

“I am well aware about the functioning of NAB as during Pervez Musharraf’s tenure I faced a NAB case for two-and-a-half years and finally two colonels took me to their senior and a proposal was given to me that I should hold a press conference in favour of Pervez Musharraf and the case will be closed. That is how NAB functions,” the lawmaker said.

Jamaat-i-Islami lawmaker Aisha Syed said there was no precedent of calling the NAB chairman for the case of an individual. She said this would give a message that there were separate laws for the privileged and less privileged people in Pakistan.

PTI legislator Ali Mohammad Khan said that if the NAB chairman had violated any law, a case could be moved in the Supreme Judicial Council against him rather than asking him to appear before the NA committee.

PML-N legislator Mohammad Moeen Wattoo said the impression that the NAB chairman would be called for ‘grilling’ was wrong. He said the committee would seek his ‘guidance’ to know why investigation had been initiated.

Minister of State for Interior Tallal Chaudry said allegations were being levelled against the PML-N leadership as it was an election year.

Earlier, Mr Mannan called the owner/publisher/reporter of a newspaper an ‘informer’ and said he was aware to whom he would have to give footage of the meeting. As the reporter and the parliamentarian had a heated argument before moving towards each other, other participants of the meeting intervened to stop them.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2018