The Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to Asghar Khan's legal heirs after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) suggested that a case relating to the implementation of a landmark 2012 verdict issued on a petition by the late chief air marshal be closed.
A two-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had taken up a final report submitted by the FIA last week on the Asghar Khan implementation case.
The agency has stated in the report, the executive summary of which has been seen by Dawn.com, that the authorities did not have enough evidence to launch a criminal prosecution against the individuals named in the judgement of the apex court.
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The 2012 SC verdict was issued on a petition filed in 1996 by Asghar Khan requesting the top court to look into allegations that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had secretly bankrolled many politicians in the 1990 elections by dishing out Rs140 million.
According to the FIA report, 18 politicians in their statements submitted in the SC denied receiving the funds to allegedly manipulate the 1990 polls.
The agency has contended that the statements of witnesses recorded in the case so far had gaps and did not correlate with each other. Moreover, the investigation agency has also remained unsuccessful in securing financial records from the relevant banks since the matter is 24 years old.
A request was made by the FIA to the Ministry of Defence asking it provide the current whereabouts of officers allegedly involved in the disbursement of money to politicians. A high-level meeting was held at General Headquarters in this regard on November 1, 2018, and it was decided that the defence ministry would initiate proceedings against the concerned army personnel in accordance with applicable laws "and that their name[s] could not be shared owing to some sensitivities", the agency's report said.
It said, however, that the FIA could not obtain details of the exact amounts allegedly disbursed among politicians from banks at this belated stage and the GHQ, which is conducting its own probe, "is yet to inform the FIA".
"Hence, no legally acceptable evidence is available with FIA on the basis of which [a] criminal case may be initiated against alleged politicians. Case merits closure," the report concludes.
"It is [a] settled rule of jurisprudence that in [the] absence of corroboratory evidence conviction cannot be based on hearsay evidence."
On Monday, the FIA director general informed the SC bench that the case had been initiated based on "newspaper reports" and that the agency had even tried to gather evidence from such press clippings but remained unsuccessful.
"No one can be punished based on newspaper reports," observed Justice Ijazul Ahsan.
The SC bench adjourned the hearing of the case until next week after issuing notices to Asghar Khan's legal heirs, seeking their response to the FIA's recommendation.
Asghar Khan case
In 1996, Asghar Khan had filed a human rights petition in the SC, accusing the ISI of doling out money to a group of politicians in the 1990s.
The case was initiated by the air marshal after Benazir Bhutto's interior minister, retired general Naseerullah Babar, had claimed in the National Assembly in 1994 that the ISI had disbursed funds to "purchase" the loyalty of politicians and public figures so as to manipulate the 1990 elections, form the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), and bring about the defeat of the PPP.
Sixteen years after the petition was filed, the SC in its judgement — penned by then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry — ruled that the 1990 general elections had been polluted by dishing out Rs140m to a particular group of politicians only to deprive the people of being represented by their chosen representatives.
The court had, however, thrown the ball back to the then PPP government by directing it to take necessary action under the Constitution and law against former army chief retired Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and former director general of ISI retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani for their role in facilitating the group of politicians and political parties to ensure their success against their rivals in the 1990 elections.
On May 7 this year, the SC bench had rejected Beg and Durrani's petitions to review the October 19, 2012 apex court verdict in the Asghar Khan case.