LAHORE: President Asif Ali Zardari has pardoned sentences awarded to Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik in all National Accountability Bureau (NAB) references.
The interior minister had appealed to the Lahore High Court to acquit him in the NAB references but the court upheld the sentences awarded to him. The President has the power under Article 45 of the Constitution to remit sentences announced by the courts. Earlier, a special division bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday dismissed Malik’s appeals against his conviction in two references by the Rawalpindi accountability court. The accountability court had sentenced Malik to three-year imprisonment each in two corruption cases filed by NAB.
According to legal experts, Malik’s conviction by the accountability court stood restored after the LHC verdict while a suspension of his punishment granted by the LHC also stood overturned. LHC Chief Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif and Justice Waqar Hasan Mir handed down the judgment which they had reserved on May 6 after hearing arguments of Malik’s counsel. The references were filed against Malik in 1997 and 1998 on the basis of cases registered by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against him.
In the first reference, Rehman Malik was accused of receiving two cars worth Rs17,98,000 from Saleem Godial of the Toyota Central Motors, Karachi, as illegal gratification on account of purchasing official vehicles by the FIA worth millions of rupees from Toyota Motors. The second case against Malik was registered by the FIA on the complaint of Hashim Raza, a resident of Lahore. Raza alleged that Malik, along with assistant director FIA Islamabad Muhammad Sajjad Haider, raided his house in August 1994 and looted jewellery weighing 20 tolas and Rs7,00,000 in cash. The complainant further alleged that the two officials snatched $20,000 from Raza’s brother.
Both cases were initially heard by a special court dealing with the FIA cases but were transferred to the accountability court after the promulgation of a NAB ordinance in 1999. Under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) the proceedings in these references were stopped. However, the cases were reopened after the Supreme Court nullified the NRO. Malik’s counsel Chaudhry Mushtaq in his arguments had said that the Supreme Court set aside conviction in absentia under section 31-A of the NAB Ordinance in numerous cases as it was against the principles of natural justice.
He said cases against Malik were fabricated on political grounds as no evidence was ever found against him. NAB prosecutor, however, defended the conviction and cited the Supreme Court’s decisions to substantiate his arguments. On Jan 7, 2004, Malik was sentenced to prison for three years in absentia under section 31-A of the NAB Ordinance, 1999. On March 5, 2008, the court terminated his sentences/ convictions in both the references under the NRO. On December 22, 2009 a division bench of the Lahore High Court suspended his three-year sentence and granted him bail. Before announcing the decision on Monday, the LHC had accepted Malik’s application for exemption from personally appearing before the court saying that he was abroad on an official tour and could not appear before the court.
Meanwhile, the interior minister met President Asif Zardari at the Bilawal House after the LHC ruling. Officials said matters relating to the verdict came under discussion. Malik is understood to have decided to challenge the LHC judgment in the Supreme Court. His lawyer may be filing a petition anytime soon. The minister also presented a report on his meeting with the MQM chief Altaf Hussain in London. (ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM ONLINE)
Published in the Express Tribune, May 18th, 2010.