National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Javed Iqbal on Friday took notice of recent TV interviews given by Director General (DG) NAB Lahore Shahzad Saleem, who opposition MNAs have accused of maligning and conducting a media trial against them, and of disclosing information about sub-judice matters with the consent of the chairman.
Opposition parties today submitted a "question of privilege" in the National Assembly Secretariat, calling to attention to what they called a "media trial" by the DG NAB Lahore during his appearance on news channels.
Saleem appeared on 'Dunya Kamran Khan Kay Sath' on Dunya News, 'Off The Record' on ARY News, 'Nadeem Malik Live' on Hum News, 'Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath' on Geo News, and 'Awaz' on Samaa TV — all over the last two days, according to the motion.
The motion said that Saleem had given interviews to multiple news channels "with the consent" of the NAB chairman. The NAB Lahore DG "provided details of the matters that are sub-judice" and "maligned the reputation" of opposition members in the National Assembly, the motion said.
The notice also accused Saleem of revealing confidential information and urged the National Assembly to intervene in the matter immediately.
Following criticism by lawmakers during today's NA session, NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal took notice of the matter and sought a complete record of Saleem's interview from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) "so that action could be taken in the light of the law".
The anti-corruption body, in a press release, made it clear that it "respects all the honourable members of the Parliament".
"This has to be seen whether anything contrary to the facts was said, and that if the pride of any MPs was hurt, then how did it happen," NAB noted.
MNAs trade barbs over NAB cases
According to PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, the PPP had "joined the motion [moved by PML-N] in writing". She said that the rest of the opposition parties had also supported the motion, signed by Leader of Opposition in the Parliament Shahbaz Sharif.
During today's assembly session, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry held Shahbaz Sharif responsible for initiating the “media trial”, referring to the PML-N president's appearance in the assembly last month after his arrest by NAB. He reminded the parliament that the law minister had pointed out that the discussion on ongoing cases was not legally allowed.
Chaudhry declared the privilege motion to be against the Constitution, and alleged that the opposition was “trying to influence the investigation”.
Former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, in response to Chaudhry, reiterated the motion's claim that NAB Lahore DG was conducting a media trial on the “directions of NAB chairman”. He alleged that Saleem owned a fake degree, adding: “Accountability should be done, but not by the likes of such people.”
He further criticised Chaudhry for suggesting that parliament members “did not have the right to speak on the floor of the assembly”.
"He [Chaudhry] also said that if an assembly member says something on the floor, then the officer has the right to come on TV and say such things [in response],” he said.
"He can correct me if I am interpreting him wrongly," Abbasi said.
Chaudhry in reply said that Abbasi had misunderstood him and he did not suggest that assembly members had no right to speak on the floor. However, he said that the law will not change for anyone.
“If they expect that they will be treated differently than the rest of the population, then they are wrong,” he said.
Speaker Qaiser said the privilege motion was in accordance with the rules, adding that he would seek legal opinion on the motion being discussed in the parliament. The session was adjourned for an indefinite period.
Later in the day, Abbasi held a press conference at the National Press Club to reiterate his defence of his party leadership in the face of the NAB official's remarks.
Finance Minister Asad Umar, in a written response to questions submitted by the opposition, deemed the opposition's accusation that the government had failed to take action against Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers as "factually incorrect".
Opposition member Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali had asked the finance minister to tell the assembly the "reasons for not taking any action" against the Pakistani citizens who were named in the Panama Papers.
Umar revealed that 444 Pakistanis had been named in the Panama Papers for allegedly owning offshore assets.. He said that the field offices had so far issued notices to 294 people under "relevant section" of Income Tax Ordinance, 2001.
About 150 people could not be traced due to "incomplete particulars", while 12 people are no longer alive, the finance minister disclosed.
Proceedings against four of the people have been dropped as they have revoked their Pakistani citizenship, the finance minister told the parliament.
He further said that audit proceedings had been finalised in 15 cases and the remaining 36 cases were being heard. Meanwhile, 242 cases are being "pursued for initiating proceedings".
The finance minister revealed that a "demand of Rs10.9bn [had] been created" out of which Rs6.2bn have been recovered.
Umar also told the parliament that the Federal Bureau of Revenue had not filed any petition in this regard with the Supreme Court.