In a first, ex-serviceman acquitted of graft charges posthumously

Updated May 21, 2019

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The Supreme Court on Monday announced a verdict which is said to be the first posthumous acquittal of a suspect in a corruption reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). — AFP/File
The Supreme Court on Monday announced a verdict which is said to be the first posthumous acquittal of a suspect in a corruption reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday announced a verdict which is said to be the first posthumous acquittal of a suspect in a corruption reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The deceased was a retired army officer, Col Iftikhar Awan. He was convicted by the accountability court of Lahore and awarded a jail term of 14 years and fine of over Rs750 million in 2002 for allegedly committing irregularities in the Services Cooperative Credit Corporation Limited (SCCCL).

According to Mohammad Akram Sheikh, the counsel for Mr Awan, this is the first case in which the apex court heard arguments at length despite knowing the death of the accused since his legal heirs wanted disposal of the case on merit.

Earlier, in some criminal cases the accused were acquitted after their death.

Mr Awan challenged the judgement of the accountability court before the Lahore High Court (LHC) which maintained his conviction, but reduced the sentence from 14 to 5 years.

An appeal against the LHC order was filed before the Supreme Court in 2009 where the matter remained pending. On April 22, 2015, Mr Awan passed away.

The legal heirs of Mr Awan petitioned before the Supreme Court to become a party in the case and to hear and decide the appeal on merit so that the stigmatic conviction may be removed from the name of the deceased who was, according to them, an honest and upright gentleman.

Advocate Sheikh submitted before the court that this was a classic case of highhandedness of NAB of their unconstitutional intrusion in judicial dispensation. He said that in this voluminous reference there was not even a single paper coming from a lawful source or custody, comprising any legally admissible evidence and unfortunately the courts below had been condoning their highhandedness by overlooking it.

He argued that under the law laid down by the apex court, no person could be convicted unless there was a lawful proof against him/her coming from a lawful source and produced by either the custodian of the record or their office. He said he would not press his appeal if the prosecution could point out a single such document from the file containing a plethora of documents.

The additional prosecutor general of NAB, Jehanzeb Bharwana, was asked to show from the record any documents coming from the proper custody or being admissible in evidence.

Mr Bharwana argued the case at length, but could not produce any document to substantiate the allegations.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court set aside the conviction and sentence posthumous by acquitting Mr Awan from the charge. The apex court also annulled the sentence of fine and declared it equally unlawful.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2019