National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Javed Iqbal on Thursday addressed traders and manufacturers in Lahore to reassure them that the watchdog is acting on their complaints and will not be a cause for disruption in their businesses.
Defending the watchdog's actions in the recent past, Iqbal said NAB has never liked to overstep its jurisdiction and that the reason for it being 'over active' was because the authority had received a lot of money laundering cases from the country's top court.
"I am presenting myself to you for my own accountability. Review the past two years and tell me at what stage and what mistakes we made," he said, stating that the bureau had not taken on any tax evasion cases against businesses, referring them to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) instead.
Iqbal said that when he took over as NAB chairman in October 2017, he had asked for a list of all cases taken up previously, adding that he had already assured traders that tax evasion cases would be taken back.
However, the NAB chief made it clear that there was a big difference between money laundering and tax evasion.
"If they [ongoing cases against business owners] solely concerned tax evasion, they would not come to us from various courts," he said as he explained why NAB was pursuing some businesses.
The NAB chairman assured the traders that the next time they invited him, there would be no tax evasion cases with the bureau, adding that all such cases would be referred to the FBR instead.
Additionally, he said that NAB had never interfered with bank default cases unless a bank had referred them to the authority, which he said happens when their settlement negotiations with parties in a case are unsuccessful.
With regards to Panama Papers cases, the NAB chairman said they remain active. However, in the instance of certain cases, information and records from foreign countries had been received more quickly than others, therefore, they had been expedited.
Iqbal then turned to an impassioned appeal to defend NAB's actions, reminding his audience that every person was first answerable before God and then before their own conscience.
"Do you think that after 35 years of judicial service, I would take any step that is for anyone's pleasure?" he asked. He said his first loyalty was to God, and then towards Pakistan and its people.
"If anyone of you thinks that NAB is affiliated with the current government, this is one hundred per cent an incorrect impression."
Iqbal said that the citizenry never believed that "certain people", in what seemed to be a reference to major political leaders currently embroiled in NAB cases, would today be in NAB custody, be answering NAB's questions or facing the courts.
"NAB should be given the credit it deserves," he said.
Plea bargain and approvers
Discussing plea bargains, the NAB chairman said: "Till I don't approve it, there can be no plea bargain."
Additionally, Iqbal said that he decides when an individual is allowed to turn into an approver. He said that either the approvers come to Islamabad or he goes to them. They are first asked if there was any force or illegal incentive for them to be made an approver, after which they check if they were in their senses when they made the statement, which is then read out to them.