ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Saturday restrained the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) from proceeding against one of its additional directors in a matter pertaining to the leak of data related to the family business of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa.
The court also expressed displeasure over the presence of SECP officials during the hearing of a petition challenging the issuance of show-cause notices to eight staffers over the leak of data related to the SAPM’s family.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had taken up the petition filed by SECP’s additional director of market surveillance department Arslan Zafar.
Contrary to routine practice, the SECP counsel, Shahid Anwar Bajwa, was also present in the courtroom despite the fact that it was a preliminary hearing and no notice had been issued to the commission.
Justice Minallah remarked that the court had yet to decide maintainability of the petition and the presence of SECP’s lawyer was not required at this point. He asked the counsel the reason behind the ‘special treatment’.
Advocate Bajwa replied that his client had instructed him to attend the proceeding and receive the court notice.
“How could you expect that we would issue a notice to SECP at this stage?” Justice Minallah asked.
“This conduct confirms the apprehensions expressed by the petitioner,” remarked the chief justice.
The counsel stated that the case was related to leak of confidential data of shareholding of private companies.
“How can data, already available on the website, be termed confidential?” asked Justice Minallah.
By the way, who is the owner of these companies, the learned judge further inquired.
“These companies belong to the family of Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa,” replied the counsel, Shahid Bajwa.
Justice Minallah posed another question to the counsel, asking, “Don’t you believe in across-the-board accountability of every citizen? I am sure the prime minister was not aware of this since he believes in accountability.”
The judge remarked that prima facie these companies were related to Asim Bajwa which was why the SECP started the probe.
He then asked the counsel who had ordered it, to which he replied, the SECP board.
The court observed that it was beyond comprehension as to why a regulator was taking interest in this matter. To ensure transparency, the regulator makes such information public, which is a pre-requisite of accountability, it added.
The IHC chief justice restrained the SECP from proceeding against Arslan Zafar, but asked him to submit a reply to the show-cause notice by Oct 12.
The court also issued notice to the commission and sought a detailed report before adjourning the hearing till Oct 12.
The SECP had issued show-cause notices to eight officials and warning letters to two others on Sept 22 over the leak of data.
The petitioner has challenged the composition of the inquiry committee and its report, saying an officer junior to him was assigned to probe the matter.
The petition said the committee did not allow Arslan Zafar to reply to the allegations within the mandatory time frame and proceeded in the matter in haste.
It said the allegations levelled against him were baseless and based on mere assumptions.
SECP chairman Amir Khan reportedly informed the prime minister that show-cause notices had been issued on the basis of a report prepared by a fact-finding committee headed by SECP commissioner Sadia Khan.
He said complete report would be submitted officially after the SECP commission hears the case against the persons issued notices.
According to the notice, Mr Zafar is reported to have made unauthorised access to personal information of Special Assistant to Prime Minister Asim Bajwa and his family members, including details of their CNICs, in the last week of July.
He is accused of violating the SECP HR manual and has been asked to provide reasons for his act and satisfy the commission over the allegations levelled against him.
Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2020