NAB served as post office in filing references against Nawaz

ISLAMABAD: The haphazardness and sloppiness of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in hasty preparation and filing of the four references against deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and others has become more pronounced and marked after the cases have been returned by the accountability court for being imperfect.

The deficiencies cited by the court registrar are of technical nature. The NAB has been directed to submit the references again after taking care of all the defects and shortcomings in the next two days.

The cases will be placed before the accountability court judge for initiation of trial of the accused - the ex-premier, his children Maryam, Hussain and Hassan, son-in-law Capt. (retd) Safdar and Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar -- only after they will be complete in all aspects.

In reality, the NAB has just served as a post office to give a legal shape to the references in the light of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, because it totally relied on the Panama Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report as directed by the Supreme Court. It was unable to carry out any independent probe against the accused, who refused to appear before it despite being summoned twice.

The apex court direction was that the NAB shall within six weeks from the date of this judgment (handed down on July 28) prepare and file before the accountability court, Rawalpindi/Islamabad, the four references, on the basis of the material collected and referred to by the JIT in its report and such other material as may be available with the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) and NAB having any nexus with the assets or which may subsequently become available including material that may come before it pursuant to the Mutual Legal Assistance requests sent by the JIT to different jurisdictions.

Thus, the direction hardly left any room for the NAB to take up its own inquiry and decide within this short span of time whether or not the material made available to it or the investigation, if any, conducted by it will merit a case.

The objections to the references – incorrect or non-numbering of the pages attached with them, non-inclusion of documents mentioned in the indexes etc., -- pinpointed by the registrar show how much the NAB was hard-pressed to meet the cutoff date, come what way, which it did by submitting the references to the accountability court.

The preparation of these cases by the NAB on the basis of the ready-made JIT findings, meeting the requirements of the NAO, was not a huge undertaking that it performed while the real demanding task is yet to come when it will have to prove each and every allegation leveled in the JIT report on the touchstone of the law of evidence as well as the accountability statute. It has to ‘own’ these references.

However, first it would require to understand every accusation hurled on the accused by the JIT, every document attached with the cases and then establish it in an open court. The proceedings will obviously be unlike the JIT process that was kept secret.

Meanwhile, there is a striking difference in the pace of disposal of high profile cases against top most leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) by various judicial forums. In addition, the tone and tenor between the two processes has also been dissimilar, maybe because handling of the judges forming part of the two benches has been different.

While this speed has been very high in taking up and dealing with the cases against the ousted prime minister, his children and Ishaq Dar, proceedings against PTI Chairman Imran Khan and its Secretary General Jehangir Tareen are witnessing a slow pace.

On Tuesday, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Umar Ata Bandial deferred the hearing for two weeks after holding one hearing that was held after several days due to the court holidays.

On the other hand, the Panama case against the former premier was heard by the five-member bench on day to day basis and the judges had repeatedly announced that they want to decide it as early as possible.

Additionally, deadlines were always fixed by this bench -- two months for the JIT to complete its investigations; six weeks for the NAB to file the references; and six months for the accountability court to decide them.

The critical questions raised by the judges and in the plea against Imran Khan and Jehangir Tareen continue to be unanswered even after a number of hearings. The chief justice has now pointed out that the PTI chief has not attached details of the money trail for the purchase of the Bani Gala property. "Where are the receipts of the transactions that prove that Imran Khan borrowed money from Jemima and returned it to her later How could he buy the property in her name for which he had asked her for a loan” the top judge asked, also inquiring why she had sent the money through Rashid Khan instead of transferring it directly to the PTI chairman.

A classic example of how a case can be dragged for an indefinite time has emerged from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is crying hoarse for the past three years, calling on Imran Khan to submit the details of foreign funds received by the PTI. The case, sponsored by Akbar S Babar, is still where it started in November 2014. The respondent has gone to the high court for several times to delay the process, but every time he has been ordered to face the proceedings at the ECP, which is extremely angry with the PTI chief for his lack of response.