The Supreme Court’s Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail on Friday asked why the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had “unlimited power” to file cases against anyone as the court dismissed the watchdog’s appeal against the bail of Ahad Cheema, now an adviser to the interim prime minister.

During the proceedings, the NAB’s prosecutor, who appeared on behalf of the watchdog’s Prosecutor General Sharif Janjua, withdrew the petition against Cheema, citing an inability to develop a case against him. The case was then dismissed.

Cheema was the first high-profile arrest in Punjab during NAB’s crackdown against corruption — seemingly targeted against leaders of the PML-N and those close to it — before the general elections of 2018. The bureau had arrested him on February 21, 2018, when he appeared before its investigation team in an inquiry into the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme.

Later, the NAB had also initiated separate inquiries against him, one involving the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) City and assets beyond means. Cheema was granted bail in all three cases in April 2021.

Cheema was cleared of the charges by the bureau along with former prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case on May 20.

Today’s hearing was conducted by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Mandokhail, during which the judges took turns to flay the bureau over its conduct and how it partakes in “political engineering”.

At the outset of the hearing, the prosecutor informed the court that the accountability watchdog could not make their case when it re-investigated Cheema for graft.

Indignation was expressed by the judges upon the prosecutor’s statement.

“Ahad Cheema was in jail for three years and NAB is now saying that there is no case. Who is supposed to make amends for the three years that Ahad Cheema had spent in jail?” asked an incensed Justice Athar Minallah.

He observed that retired Brigadier Asad Munir, who was also acquitted posthumously by the courts after he ended his life due to the behaviour that had been adopted by the accountability bureau.

“Why does NAB have this attitude towards people who are innocent,” he asked the prosecutor.

The chief justice then spoke, recounting how a chartered accountant acquaintance of his was called in by the watchdog as a witness in a case where he was made to wait for five hours before being told to return at a later date.

Justice Minallah then noted that NAB was “created by [Gen Pervez] Musharraf for political engineering — which is being proved by NAB themselves”.

The judge stated that someone should be held responsible for NAB’s actions.

When he spoke, Justice Mandokhail reminded the prosecutor that he had himself been a prosecutor for the bureau and was well aware of the system.

“There are blue, yellow and dark rooms in NAB [office] and their entire purpose is politics,” Justice Mandokhail stated.

Justice Minallah then reminded the prosecutor of the conduct that the bureau had shown within the courts in the Ahad Cheema case.

“NAB asked for the adjournment of the Ahad Cheema case 24 times,” he said. “NAB’s conduct was explained in detail in the high court order.

“Then they challenged that decision in the Supreme Court. After keeping him in prison for years, NAB is now saying that they have found nothing in their investigation,” he said.

He also stated that the bureau should explain why it decided to increase the burden of the court’s caseload with this application. “Ahad Cheema was innocent that’s why no crime was proved against him,” he added.

At one point in the hearing, Justice Mandokhail advised the accused to sue the accountability court after being acquitted. “Why does NAB have unlimited powers to file cases against anyone,” Justice Mandokhail asked.

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