LAHORE: An accountability court on Monday acquitted former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf of the charge of making illegal appointments in the Gujranwala Electric Power Company (Gepco) four years after the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed a reference against him and others in 2016.

Presiding judge Amjad Nazir Chaudhry also acquitted seven co-suspects, including former secretary of water and power Shahid Rafi, former managing director of the Pakistan Electric Power Company Tahir Basharat Cheema, former directors of Gepco’s board of governors Saleem Arif, Malik Muhammad Razi Abbas and Wazir Ali, former chief executive officer of Gepco Ibrahim Majoka and its human resource director Hashmat Ali Kazmi.

NAB accused Mr Ashraf of making illegal appointments in Gepco during his stint as federal minister for water and power. It alleged that the former prime minister used his powers and appointed 437 people in the company from his electoral constituency in violation of rules.

Advocate Iftikhar Shahid, representing Mr Ashraf in the case, argued that the prosecution had made a ‘table story’ and had failed to present even a single evidence to establish the charge against his client. He said that none of the prosecution witnesses exclusively testified against the former premier.

NAB claimed PPP leader had hired over 400 people in Gepco in violation of rules

He said that during the cross-examination the investigating officer (IO) admitted that Mr Ashraf had never been summoned at the inquiry stage. He said the IO had also admitted that none of the suspects had gained any monetary benefit from the appointments.

The counsel said that the IO was neither able to tell the number of people of the former premier’s constituency nor could he prove that the appointed people were relatives or voters of his constituency.

He argued that after recent amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, the alleged misuse of authority was no more an offence unless financial corruption was established.

The NAB prosecutor argued that the National Accountability (second amendment) Ordinance, 2019, had no retrospective effect.

However, Advocate Shahid argued that it was clearly written in the original ordinance that the law and all future amendments to it would have retrospective effect from 1985.

Even otherwise, the counsel said, no case of misuse of authority had been made against the suspect under the ordinance before the amendment.

The judge allowed applications of the suspects and acquitted them of the charges.

Talking to the media outside the court, Mr Ashraf said that the case against him had no legal standing.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2020