ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has decided to scrutinise powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman of issuing arrest warrants, observing that unfettered powers of arrest are contradictory to fundamental rights of citizens.
An IHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Lubna Saleem Pervez was hearing two petitions seeking post-arrest bail for former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal.
The bench adjourned the hearing to Feb 20 as in both the cases the court spent more time in determining the powers of arrest vested in the NAB chairman.
Justice Minallah asked a number of questions from NAB additional prosecutor general Jahanzeb Khan Bharwana and its investigation officers about the LNG terminal case against Mr Abbasi and the Narowal Sports City (NSC) project for which Mr Iqbal is facing an inquiry for expanding the scope of the scheme.
Says unfettered powers are contradictory to fundamental rights of citizens
Ironically, in both the cases, the NAB prosecution could not provide satisfactory answers to the questions put to them by the court regarding reasons for issuance of the arrest warrants that too at the inquiry stage.
Justice Minallah observed that the arrest of a citizen without any justification was against the fundamental rights, liberty and dignity. He asked the NAB prosecution as well as the investigation officers to explain “what were the compelling circumstances that led NAB to issue arrest warrants”.
The investigation officer informed the court that Mr Iqbal was not cooperating with the investigation team.
Mr Iqbal’s counsel Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri produced six call-up notices before the court, saying that the former interior minister was cooperating with NAB and appeared before the investigation team whenever he was summoned. He said that on his sixth appearance in December last year, the investigation officer arrested him from the NAB premises.
“Why do you think that the arrest was indispensible and what led you to believe that the investigation could not be conducted without arresting him?” asked Justice Minallah.
The investigation officer replied that there were apprehensions that Mr Iqbal might tamper with evidence.
“Didn’t you take the relevant record in your custody when the inquiry was entrusted to you?” the bench asked him again.
The officer replied that Mr Iqbal was so powerful that he had manipulated the sports project in 2009 when he was not even a minister.
Justice Minallah expressed displeasure over these answers and warned that “if the arrest is not justified, it would amount to tort”.
Mr Bharwana argued that there were chances of Mr Iqbal’s absconsion. However, when the court inquired whether he was placed on the Exit Control List (ECL), the lead prosecutor replied in negative.
Arguing the bail petition of Mr Abbasi, Barrister Zafarullah Khan informed the court that it had been 205 days since Mr Abbasi is in custody and at present he had been confined to death cell.
When the IHC chief justice inquired from NAB as to why Mr Abbasi had been kept in death cell, Mr Bharwana pointed out that the former premier was not in the custody of NAB, adding that he was kept in the judicial lockup since he had been on judicial remand.
Justice Minallah asked the investigation officer “why NAB feels it is inevitable to arrest him [Abbasi] for investigation”.
He replied: “We provided opportunities to him to share relevant details with us, which he didn’t.”
Barrister Khan, on the other hand, said that Mr Abbasi had provided details of his business and assets for the last 20 years.
Justice Minallah wondered whether the investigation officer was repeatedly summoning Mr Abbasi with the expectation that he might confess his crime.
The investigation officer could not respond to the court’s questions such as, “Do you know what the human impact of arrest is? Can you return the dignity of a man who suffered humiliation for being arrested?”
Mr Bharwana informed the court that NAB had detected several transactions in the accounts of Mr Abbasi.
The defence counsel, however, said that these transactions belonged to his private business, adding that the former premier was the 5th largest taxpayer of the country and recently the government issued a commendation certificate to him.
He further said that the government also expanded the LNG terminal project and work had been assigned to the same company — EETPL.
It may be mentioned that NAB in its written reply submitted to the IHC stated that Mr Abbasi was involved in “award of LNG Terminal-I to M/s EETPL at Port Qasim, Karachi, at exorbitant rates”.
It said that Mr Abbasi got cancelled the Fast Track LNG Project — Integrated System — from the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) on June 27, 2013 and M/s QED Consultant which, according to NAB was selected without adhering to procurement rules, had disqualified the EETPL.
When Justice Minallah asked the investigation officer about the authenticity of this news, he expressed his inability to confirm the information, saying that “I cannot confirm the news right now”.
“You filed the reference without confirmation, you need not to confirm this you must know the facts,” remarked the judge.
The bench adjourned the hearing to Feb 20 and said the final decision would also discuss the parameters for the powers vested in the NAB chairman to issue arrest warrants as the Supreme Court had in a number of judgements pointed out that these powers were not unfettered and unbridled.
Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2020