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KARACHI: An accountability court reserved on Monday its order regarding maintainability of a reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, his family members and others pertaining to possessing assets worth over Rs1.61 billion.

Mr Durrani, a senior leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party and former provincial local government minister, was arrested by NAB from an Islamabad hotel on Feb 20 for investigation into his alleged movable and immovable assets beyond his known sources of income.

On March 21, NAB filed a reference against him, his spouse and four children and 13 others for allegedly acquiring movable and immovable assets valued at around Rs1.61bn through illegal means.

On Monday, the administrative judge of the accountability courts, Dr Sher Bano Karim, heard at length arguments from the NAB prosecutor and defence counsel on the maintainability of the reference and fixed July 1 for pronouncement of the order.

Defence counsel Amir Raza Naqvi argued that the reference was not maintainable since the investigation was initiated on the basis of information mentioned in a letter addressed by complainant Maulana Syed Aziz Ahmed Amori to the NAB chairman.

He added even no prior notice of the complaint, as required under Section 90 of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, was issued to Mr Durrani to inform him about the allegations.

The counsel cited that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, former president Asif Ali Zardari and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had been given prior call-up notices to inform them about the allegations, but NAB-Sindh neither interrogated Mr Durrani nor gave him any questionnaire until his arrest on Feb 20.

According to the complainant, Mr Durrani after assuming the office of the LG minister allegedly started making money, received bhatta (extortion) and also collected millions of rupees in kickbacks. Besides, he was also in contact with dacoits, the complaint said.

However, his counsel contended that the proper legal procedures had not been adopted by NAB. He said that NAB neither provided any money trail of the alleged corruption in the present case nor it had mentioned losses caused to the national exchequer by the suspects.

He pleaded to the court to reject the reference for lacking evidence.

On the other hand, NAB prosecutor Shahbaz Sahotra submitted that NAB was fully authorised to initiate an inquiry against anyone suspected of being involved in corruption or corrupt practices under the provisions of the NAO 1999, adding it was also empowered to arrest any suspect within or after 24 hours of completing such an inquiry.

He refuted that the case against Mr Durrani was made on the basis of internet information and argued that a complaint was duly received on April 8, 2018 and after proper verification of the complaint and with the due approval from the NAB chief inquiries were initiated in the present case.

Upon completion of such inquiries, the NAB chairman accorded approval to file a reference, the prosecutor said, adding that all legal formalities had been complied with.

The prosecutor maintained that credible evidence was available on record to prove the allegations against Mr Durrani, his family members and other suspects and pleaded to accept the reference against them for initiating a proper trial.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2019