The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Saturday declared the notices issued by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to PTI Chairman Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi illegal.

The notices were related to an inquiry against the couple for allegedly “illegally” retaining Toshakhana gifts.

The Toshakhana is a department responsible for storing gifts and other precious items given to Pakistani public officials and is under the control of the Cabinet Division. Imran has faced a number of legal issues over his retention of gifts mentioned in the NAB notice. The issue led to his disqualification by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in the past. Imran is also set to be indicted in a separate case related to the Toshakhana gifts by the Islamabad High Court on May 10.

Earlier this month, Imran and Bushra had challenged the NAB case against them, which accused them of retaining and “illegally” selling Toshakhana gifts. On February 17, NAB had issued notices to Imran and Bushra for retaining state gifts.

The anti-corruption watchdog had sought details from Imran about wristwatches and a mobile phone presented to him by various foreign dignitaries. NAB also asked for details about jewellery sets presented to Bushra, including a Rolex watch, a gold and diamond locket presented by the Emir of Qatar, and two necklace sets gifted by the Saudi crown prince on September 18, 2020, and May 21, 2021, respectively.

In its verdict issued today, the court acknowledged that the deputy prosecutor general of NAB might have been correct in taking a certain position, as the petitioners did not appear in response to the notices. However, the court noted that the notices “were not in conformity with the law”.

The verdict, co-authored by IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Babar Sattar, said: “In view of the above, the instant petitions are disposed of with observations that the impugned notices are not in accordance with the law and having no legal effect.”

The court also observed that NAB “shall be at liberty” to issue fresh notices to the petitioners in line with the court’s observations.

Imran’s plea

In a petition before the IHC filed through his attorney Khawaja Haris Ahmed and Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, the former prime minister and his wife had pleaded that NAB had issued the notice in violation of Section 19 of the National Accountability Ordinance.

“The contents of the call-up notice unambiguously establish that the respo­n­dent [NAB] had, through their impu­gned notice, initiated a fishing exercise, rather than complying with the provision of law before issuing the same,” the petitions said. It requested the court to declare the NAB notice illegal.

The NAB’s call-up notice, signed by its additional director Mohammad Faisal Qureshi, earlier sent to Imran’s Banigala residence in Islamabad, was issued on Feb 17.

The notice said: “The competent authority has taken cognisance of an offence allegedly committed by the accused persons under the provisions of NAO, 1999.

“In this regard, the inquiry proceedings have revealed that during your tenure in office you retained some state gifts presented to you by various foreign dignitaries including the following luxury items — five Rolex wristwatches; one iPhone presented by Chief of Staff, Qatar Armed Forces, dated 14.11.2018; (No. E67574V3), a pair of cufflinks, one ring; unstitched cloth from Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia dated 18.09.2020; Graff gift set containing one Graff wristwatch Master Graff Special Edition Mecca timepiece, one 18K gold and diamond Graff pen and a ring and pair of cufflinks with micro-painting of Mecca,” the according to the notice.

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