IHC turns down NAB objection against allowing former Sindh Bank president to operate frozen account

Published January 24, 2021
The Islamabad High Court has allowed former Sindh Bank president Bilal Sheikh to withdraw Rs95,000 from his account seized by the National Accountability Bureau in connection with his alleged involvement in a fake accounts case. — IHC website/File
The Islamabad High Court has allowed former Sindh Bank president Bilal Sheikh to withdraw Rs95,000 from his account seized by the National Accountability Bureau in connection with his alleged involvement in a fake accounts case. — IHC website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has allowed former Sindh Bank president Bilal Sheikh to withdraw Rs95,000 from his account seized by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with his alleged involvement in a fake accounts case.

IHC Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Ghulam Azam Qambrani heard the petition filed by Mr Sheikh.

An inquiry was initiated against him by NAB with respect to a fake accounts scam pertaining to imprudent lending to Omni Group of Companies.

According to the petition, the petitioner was also a member of the board of directors of the bank and joined an inquiry and appeared before the investigation officer. The inquiry was converted into an investigation in June, 2019. Subsequently, the petitioner was arrested on July 10, 2019, but released on bail in Dec 2019.

The petitioner’s counsel adopted before the court that NAB had attached his properties and bank accounts after implicating him in the case.

The petitioner moved an application before the accountability court seeking clarification that the letter sent to the court by NAB was in fact a notice of caution which had the effect of freezingaccounts in terms of section 12 of the NAB ordinance.

The accountability court held that the letter was in fact a notice of caution under section 23 and was not a freezing order. The petitioner filed another application seeking permission to withdraw Rs950,000 per month as monthly expenses but it was disposed of on Oct 23, 2019 with permission that the petitioner can withdraw only Rs95,000.

NAB challenged this order in the IHC.

The petitioner’s counsel argued before the court that NAB had no authority to send letters to banks asking them to freeze the accounts of his client.

It was submitted that the purpose of freezing the account was to prevent sale of assets which had been obtained through embezzled/ill-gotten money so that if found guilty the amounts may be recovered from the accused which is not the case in the instant case as the matter is still under investigation.

The court noted: “When it comes to the known assets of any accused person, NAB conveniently avoids passing of orders under section 12 [regarding caution for properties] ibid and simply relies upon section 23 of the ordinance and intimates relevant authorities to mark ‘caution’ on the same. This practice by NAB appears to be in violation of statutory provisions and should be avoided. Whenever NAB desires that property should be frozen, it should specifically, through chairman NAB, pass such an order and get it validated from the concerned accountability court.”

It added: “Though the spirit of the National Accountability Ordinance is that investigation or inquiry is to be conducted and concluded by NAB expeditiously and also trial is to be concluded within 30 days, it is hardly ever the case. The inquiry/investigation continues for years and even trials are not concluded within stipulated statutory period, the court order said.”

In such a situation, blocking bank account (s) of an accused person would tantamount to depriving him of his legitimate means to live. It can never be the spirit of law that a person, facing an investigation or inquiry, is unable to withdraw from his bank account (s) for day-to-day affairs and the referred position to continue for years due to delay by the investigating agency.

Even, in the instant case, investigation/inquiry is pending since April, 2019, and in July 2019, assets of the petitioners were put under caution. Due to the letters written by NAB to the banks where the petitioner was maintaining his accounts, he is finding it difficult to survive as he is unable to withdraw a single rupee from the banks, the IHC order added.

Subsequently, the IHC upheld the order of the accountability court and allowed Mr Sheikh to withdraw Rs95,000 per month from the bank accounts.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2021

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