The accountability courts across the country have started returning corruption references to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman as the lawmakers have amended the NAB law to the extent that the courts can’t even acquit the accused standing trial due to the lack of jurisdiction.

Following the amendments to the NAB law, the accountability courts, where once the most powerful people stood trial, have started returning corruption references to the NAB chairman as the accused could no longer be tried because the courts lack pecuniary jurisdiction in the cases.

Since the changes have been made, court and NAB sources revealed that roughly 50 corruption references have so far been returned, including the references against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, his son Hamza Shehbaz, National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, and former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani, among several others, as the cases involved amount which is less than Rs500 million.

The government had introduced drastic changes in the accountability laws and put a limit on the jurisdictions of anti-graft watchdog. Subsequently, after the law was amended, corruption cases below Rs500 million do not come under the watchdog’s ambit anymore.

“Due to lack of jurisdiction, even no verdict of acquittal or otherwise can be passed on applications filed for acquittal of the accused,” an Islamabad’s accountability court judge, Muhammad Bashir stated in one his judgements on returning corruption reference filed against Senator Saleem Mandviwalla and others.

Judge Bashir, who once conducted trial of former premier Nawaz Sharif and his family members in the Panamagate trial, stated in the Mandviwalla case’s judgement that “the jurisdiction of this court is ousted through amendment made in the definition of ‘offence’ through the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Act 2022 by describing the value not less than 500 million rupees for the offence”.

In a judgement of an accountability court in Lahore, Judge Muhammad Sajid Ali stated that “this court has no jurisdiction to further continue with the trial of this case/reference, therefore, the same is returned to Chairman NAB for placing it before the concerned forum”.

The court order revealed that PM Shehbaz as being the then Punjab chief minister in aid, abetment and connivance with his son and co-accused Hamza Shahbaz, ex-CEO/director Ramzan Sugar Mills Ltd, by misuse of authority issued a directive and approved sullage carrier.

The court order stated that NAB had alleged that the motive was to provide an affluent disposal mechanism to their family’s Ramzan Sugar Mills and thus allegedly gained monetary benefit for themselves and caused loss to the national exchequer to the tune of Rs213 million. Referring to the recent amendments, the judge ruled that the court lacks jurisdiction to proceed further.

Since coming to power, the government has amended the NAB law and not only put a limit on the jurisdictions of anti-graft watchdog but barred surveillance through agencies and stripped the president of powers to appoint accountability judges.

The amendments and courts’ subsequent decisions to send back references provided fresh ammunition to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leadership as they equated the changes with rulers giving themselves an NRO – a deal.

Commenting on the development, PTI leader Dr Babar Awan said the institution of accountability has died as 95 per cent NAB cases have ended because of the changes. With “NRO-2”, Awan said the accused allegedly involved in corruption cases amounting to roughly Rs2,400 billion have got relief.

Corruption cases have long dominated Pakistan’s political scene and political parties have long been using opponents’ graft cases for political gains. The slogan of accountability across the board surfaces every now and then but it goes away with the same speed while the country keeps sliding down on the global corruption index.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here