PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court on Tuesday referred the pre-arrest bail pleas of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz provincial chief Amir Muqam and seven other suspects to the relevant accountability court, declaring that the recent amendments to the relevant law empowered the accountability courts to decide bail matters.

A bench consisting of Justice Lal Jan Khattak and Justice Mohammad Faheem Wali pronounced a short order observing that when the accountability courts had now been empowered to hear bail pleas, it would be appropriate for those courts to decide the petitions of pleas of the present petitioners.

An inquiry has been under way for the last few years against Mr Muqam, a former federal minister, by the National Accountability Bureau regarding his assets.

Rules that such pleas can be heard by accountability courts after changes to relevant law

The bench granted 15 days pre-arrest bail to Mr Muqam and seven other petitioners directing them to appear before the relevant accountability court during that period.

Detailed order will be released later.

A few weeks ago, the court had directed both lawyers for the petitioners as well as the NAB prosecutors to look into the amendments made to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, through the National Accountability (Amendment) Ordinance 2021, and argue their case whether after those amendments, these bail matters should be heard by the high court or the accountability court.

NAB deputy prosecutor general Mohammad Ali argued that the amendments made to the NAO were clear and that the accountability courts were fully empowered to hear both bail and pre-arrest bail pleas.

He added that those amendments were meant to provide relief to a suspect during trial.

Mr Ali argued that previously, the accused had approached the relevant high courts for bail under Article 199 of the Constitution as there was no provision of bail in the NAO.

He said as the remedy of hearing bail pleas was available with the accountability court, the accused should approach it instead of the high court.

The NAB deputy prosecutor general pointed out that the Islamabad High Court had disposed of in Nov last year a petition of former president Asif Ali Zardari, who sought pre-arrest bail in a case, and asked him to approach the relevant accountability court for the purpose.

A panel of lawyers representing Amir Muqam said those amendments were not applicable to their client’s case as the petition was filed before they were made to the law.

They said the petition was filed under Article 199 of the Constitution and apart from seeking pre-arrest bail, the petitioner had also raised certain constitutional points.

The counsel contended that the probe against Mr Muqam was at the inquiry stage, whereas the trial court could hear only bail pleas under the amendments after the filing of a reference.

They added that when fundamental rights were affected, a person could approach the high court for relief.

The counsel said the NAB chairman had issued warrants for the arrest of their client while probing his assets.

They added that the anti-graft watchdog had been repeatedly issuing call-up notices to their client and intended to arrest him.

The high court had granted interim pre-arrest bail to Mr Muqam in 2020 on the condition of furnishing two surety bonds of Rs1 million each.

Mr Muqam had contended that he had established a family business firm under the name of AM & Co, which had an average yearly profit of Rs524 million.

He had added that the value of all assets purchased in his name and his family members since the year 1989 totalled Rs701.239 million, whereas only the income of their firm in the last eight years exceeded Rs1.637 billion mark, which was twice more than the value of assets.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2022

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