NAB chairman, DG FIA failed to probe Panama Papers: SC

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) in its judgment in the PanamaLeaks case observed that National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General (DG) failed to investigate the Panama Papers case. 

While expressing no-trust in the National Accountability  Bureau (NAB), the apex court stated that it had become quite obvious to them during these proceedings that NAB chairman was too partial and partisan to be solely entrusted with such an important and sensitive investigation involving the prime minister and his family. 

The SC judgment stated further that owing to the nature and scope of investigation, a broader pool of investigative experts was required, which might not be available with NAB. The judgment stated that it had also come to the notice that Respondent No 1 and his family were the subject matter of a number of investigations in the past.

There were serious charges of corruption and money laundering in which context two FIRs were lodged and a reference was also filed by the NAB which inter alia relied upon a confessional statement made by Respondent No10 giving details of the mode and manner, persons and entities involved in activities ranging from money laundering to trans-border movement of allegedly tainted money and real estate investments in other countries. 

Respondent No 10 was granted pardon by the NAB chairman presumably in return for his offering to cooperate and providing the requisite information. Respondent No 10 subsequently backed out of his confessional statement. The reference filed by NAB did not proceed for many years for various reasons, including absence of Respondent No 1 and his family from the country, having been sent into exile after the events of 1999. Subsequently, the reference was quashed by a division bench of the Lahore High Court on technical grounds in exercise of its constitutional jurisdiction in a case reported as Hudaibiya Paper Mills Ltd v. Federation of Pakistan (PLD 2016 Lahore 667). It is important to note that one of the learned judges of the bench, while quashing the reference, held that NAB might if it deemed appropriate re-investigate the matter while the other member of the bench disagreed to the point of re-investigation and held that such re-investigation would amount to providing the prosecution an opportunity to fill the lacuna in its earlier investigation. The LHC chief justice referred the point of disagreement to a referee judge who agreed to the finding that the NAB could not be allowed to re-investigate the matter.

Owing to the importance of the issue and considering the consistent practice of NAB that most LHC verdicts which had any adverse impact on investigations and prosecutions being conducted by the NAB were challenged before this court and they were surprised why this judgment was not challenged and whether failure to challenge was based upon the fact that the parties involved were influential and prominent in the corridors of power. 

In order to clarify the position, the court summoned the incumbent NAB chairman as well as the NAB prosecutor general along with the record to explain the position. On being questioned, lame, feeble and unconvincing excuses were put forth to the effect that an internal opinion was sought from in-house counsel who opined that in view of the fact that two LHC judges had recorded findings against NAB on the question of re-investigation, there were slim chances of success of an appeal before this court. The then NAB chairman who, not unsurprisingly was also the incumbent chairman, appeared to have readily agreed to such opinion and decided to shelf the matter by not filing an appeal before this court. Despite serious misgivings regarding the motivation, merit and impartiality of such decision, the NAB chairman blatantly and unapologetically defended his action and stated that he would stick to his earlier decision despite discovery of new material and evidence.

The fate of the aforenoted FIRs was no different which were also quashed by an LHC bench in a case reported as Hamza Shahbaz Sharif v. Federation of Pakistan (1999 P CrLJ 1584). The accused were acquitted and the chapter of investigation and trial for allegations of corruption and money laundering was unceremoniously, prematurely and abruptly closed.