LAHORE: As under the newly amended accountability laws, courts have started sending back corruption references — involving an amount less than Rs500 million — to the anti-graft watchdog, with its new chief apparently in no hurry to forward them to a relevant forum for action, the corruption cases such as Ramzan Sugar Mills virtually stand closed, at least for the time being, Dawn has learnt.
Almost all such references were against those linked with the incumbent coalition government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, a source in the federal government disclosed on Saturday.
A former prosecutor general believes referring the cases back to National Accountability Bureau does not mean ‘crime is not committed’ and the fact that there were dozens of such cases cannot be ignored.
Accountability courts have recently sent back several references, including the one against PM Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz (Ramzan Sugar Mills) and former premiers Yousaf Raza Gilani (USF) and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf (rental power projects), to the NAB chairman, citing the amended legislation and with a direction to place it before a court of competent jurisdiction.
NAB claims going ‘by the book’ after courts return references citing jurisdiction under recently amended laws
The source in the federal government said it was unlikely that the new NAB chief, who was appointed by PM Sharif and his handpicked opposition leader in National Assembly Raja Riaz, would send these corruption cases to other forums like anti-corruption establishment. “Apparently these corruption references stand closed, as the NAB is showing no hurry in sending them to the relevant legal forums for action,” he said, adding that nearly all such references were against those linked with the incumbent coalition government.
When contacted, NAB spokesperson Nadeem Khan said: “All such cases will be decided as per law.”
Former NAB Punjab director Farooq Hameed had earlier told Dawn it would have been better for the government to shut the bureau instead of introducing such sweeping legislation to defang it.
“Accountability of the corrupt elite is now next to impossible. Why should the government allocate billions of rupees in the budget for NAB when it has brought about changes to ensure billions of rupees looted by the corrupt cannot be recovered... RIP (rest in peace) accountability,” he remarked.
NAB Punjab former prosecutor general Chaudhry Khaliquz Zaman said although references in which corruption amounting less than Rs500m had been committed returned to the NAB, it did not mean that “crime is not committed”. He said: “The accountability courts have asked the NAB chairman to send these references to a relevant forum and that one can be either ACE, FIA’s special court central or may be sessions court in some such cases.” Mr Zaman said the fact that such cases were dozens in number could not be ignored.
According to a former NAB prosecutor, the most glaring change made in the NAB laws is that the burden of proof has been shifted to the one who reports the alleged corruption to the bureau, indicating that a suspect could easily get away with the wealth he amassed through whichever means.
An official associated with the Punjab Youth Festival reference, which has also been returned to NAB, told Dawn that an important aspect was misuse of authority and abuse of law by “NAB itself” prior to the recent amendments to the NAB laws.
He cited a higher court’s observation stating “It is obvious from the dictionary meaning that the expressions ‘corruption’ and ‘corrupt practices’ are distinct from ‘negligence’ or even ‘recklessness’. Mere illegality, negligence or recklessness would not constitute corruption sans a guilty mind. Before proceeding further it would be appropriate to survey the precedent law”.
The ruling coalition partners, PML-N and PPP, claimed all such references were instituted on “political grounds”.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2022