LAHORE: A detailed verdict by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on a bail petition of a former Punjab minister said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had reopened the case without following the due process.
In 2018, NAB restarted inquiry against former Punjab minister for forestry, wildlife and fisheries Mohammad Sibtain Khan. According to NAB, as Punjab minister for mines and minerals in July 2007 he awarded illegally a multi-billion-rupee contract for 500-metric tons of iron ore in Rajwah and Chiniot to Earth Resource Pvt Ltd. Then, in June, this year, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf affiliated minister was arrested by the accountability body in Lahore.
The bench had granted post-arrest bail to the petitioner on Sept 18 through a short order.
During the hearing of the case by the two-judge bench comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem, the prosecutor argued before the bench that rules were not followed while awarding the contract and the inquiry was reopened upon the recommendations of the NAB chairman, therefore, the petitioner prima facie was alleged to have committed a criminal breach of trust.
But the bench said the previous inquiry against the petitioner and others was dropped back in 2013 in the light of a report by NAB which stated that no loss had been caused to the public exchequer as the contract was cancelled by the Punjab government.
Also, the judges said no fresh evidence or charges were brought against the petitioner and yet NAB had reopened the case.
“The NAB chairman ordered the re-opening of inquiry without holding any official of NAB responsible for the closure of the inquiry,” said the bench. It further said reasons and circumstances were, apparently, neither brought before the chairman nor had he formed an opinion on the basis of the material.
“It is not the whims and designs unsubstantiated by the fresh disclosed facts on the basis of which it could re-open a closed inquiry in a slipshod manner. The reasons, if any, are shrouded in mystery,” ruled the bench.
“The powers of NAB chairman are structured by law and conscience. With great power comes great responsibility,” ruled the bench in its detailed verdict on the bail petition.
Questioning the manner of re-opening of a closed inquiry, the bench ruled: “The powers of the chairman are structured by law and conscience, and therefore, he must be guided by them and not by unperceived perception infatuated by his subjective approach so as to use his discretion for taking some kind of an imaginary blaming act.”
Addressing a question of bail in offences under the NAB ordinance 1999, the bench ruled that it is by now well-settled that a statutory ouster of jurisdiction of all courts could not affect the jurisdiction of a high court to grant bail under Article 199 of the Constitution.
It said the primary feature of Article 199 was to provide a forum to an aggrieved person who has no other adequate remedy and its secondary feature is the protection of fundamental rights.
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2019