LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Wednesday granted post-arrest bail to former defence minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif in a case of money laundering and assets beyond means being investigated by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The NAB had arrested Asif from Islamabad on Dec 29, 2020, and later shifted him to Lahore where he remained on physical remand till Jan 22, 2021. The former minister is also a sitting MNA of the PML-N from NA-73, Sialkot.
The prosecution team of the NAB failed to satisfy a two-judge bench on several queries during the concluding hearing of the bail petition of Asif.
At the outset of the hearing, NAB special prosecutor Faisal Raza Bokhari stated the first complaint against Asif was received at the Rawalpindi office of the bureau on March 1, 2018.
NAB prosecutor fails to satisfy court on several queries
The complainant was Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s leader Usman Dar, who had lost his 2018 general election to Asif.
He said an inquiry into the complaint was launched on Sept 4 the same year, which was later shifted to Lahore office on June 30, 2020. He said the NAB converted the inquiry into an investigation after the arrest of Asif in December, 2020.
Bokhari said the petitioner was first elected senator in 1991 when his assets, as per nomination papers, were around Rs5 million. He said the assets of the petitioner swelled to Rs221m by 2018, which were beyond known sources of his income.
He said there had been a difference of Rs159m in income and expenditures of the petitioner. He pointed out that Asif declared an income of Rs144m from Iqama (work permit) and personal business in the UAE.
To a bench’s query, the prosecutor said Asif used to transfer money from the UAE to Pakistan through his personal bank accounts.
Justice Aalia Neelum, who headed the bench, observed that the NAB submitted its two replies in the case and both were contradictory. The judge noted that the NAB in its first reply said the petitioner had an overdraft of Rs230m and changed the amount to Rs150m in the subsequent reply.
The judge remarked that the NAB also changed its stance with respect to the amounts and the time of the transactions.
Prosecutor Bokhari said the petitioner should be thankful to the honesty of the NAB for reducing the ‘disputed’ amount.
Justice Neelum questioned the change in the NAB’s stance on its own. However, the prosecutor claimed there was no change in the stance.
The judge further noted that the NAB in its reply said the investigation was still in progress while the investigating officer claimed that the reference against the petitioner had been sent to the authority [NAB chairman] for a final approval.
“What is this? What are the NAB investigating officers doing?” the judge asked the prosecutor.
At one point, the prosecutor said the petitioner had not provided the NAB with evidence of his sources of income in the UAE.
“Whether the sole responsibility of the NAB officials is to sit in offices and wait for a suspect to bring proofs on his own,” the judge sarcastically posed a query to the prosecutor.
“The NAB does not want to explain its position but ask others to explain,” the judge said in her remarks.
The judge also regretted that the details of the petitioner’s income required to the NAB were already available with his Iqama. The NAB collected the record of its own interest and ignored the remaining, which was apparently in favour of the petitioner, the judge added.
The prosecutor said the relevant company of Abu Dhabi did not verify the Iqama and the amount of the income declared by the petitioner.
Asif’s counsel Haider Rasul Mirza contradicted the prosecutor’s claim and argued that the UAE government never issued an Iqama if a company did not exist. He said the company was ready to respond to the court if required.
Justice Syed Shahbaz Ali Rizvi, the other member of the bench, observed that the apex court had already decided the authenticity of the Iqama of the petitioner.
The bench allowed the bail petition of Asif subject to furnishing of bail bonds.
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2021