ISLAMABAD: Irked by National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) failure to present arguments in petitions seeking to suspend Avenfield reference verdict, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday imposed a fine on the corruption watchdog.
The directives were issued during today’s hearing after the bureau sought adjournment in petitions seeking suspension of sentences awarded to imprisoned former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam and son in-law Captain (retd) Safdar by the accountability court.
The IHC division bench, comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, expressed displeasure at the NAB before slamming a Rs10,000 fine and directing prosecutors to conclude arguments in the case on Monday, August 20.
It is pertinent to note that the high court had turned down NAB’s application seeking adjournment on August 15 and heard arguments from the petitioners’ counsels with directions to NAB to conclude arguments on Thursday.
During the hearing, Justice Aurangzeb inquired about the plausibility of seeking an adjournment when the other side had already presented arguments. “We have immense respect for you but these are crooked instructions,” he said while addressing NAB’s Deputy Prosecutor General (DPG) Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi.
When Justice Aurangzeb asked who directed the DPG to seek adjournment, Abbasi replied that instructions came from NAB Prosecutor General. “Did you inform him that the instructions were unfair and against norms of propriety? How can NAB make such a request,” asked Justice Aurangzeb, adding that the request reflected badly upon the corruption watchdog.
The bench observed that it was difficult to comprehend on what grounds NAB sought adjournment keeping in view the petitioners’ counsel had already presented arguments in the matter and urged Muzaffar to take a position. “This must be very embarrassing for you,” the bench remarked.
Meanwhile, deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s counsel Khawaja Haris said his client was behind bars and lamented that the NAB has sought an adjournment despite the suspension petitions being filed a month after filing and heard for the last many days.
At this point, Justice Aurangzeb remarked that NAB prosecutors looked uncomfortable while Justice Minallah added the court had to take into consideration that the applicants were incarcerated. “Discomfort on their [NAB prosecutors] faces is visible,” Justice Aurangzeb remarked.
Reiterating that he was directed to not present arguments, Abbasi sought another opportunity. Justice Minallah said the bench never denied opportunities but the request needed to be reasonable.
Upon the court’s inquiry if prosecutors could conclude arguments on August 20 (Monday), Abbasi said he would need instructions from the bureau.
Annoyed by the reply, Justice Aurangzeb remarked that Abbasi’s instructions seemed clear. “Since you are not presenting arguments, we are going to penalise the bureau. NAB prosecutor Haider Ali Khan intervened to say that the anti-graft body will conclude arguments on Monday.
“I anticipate NAB to come up with another excuse on August 20,” jibed Haris. Counsel for Maryam Nawaz and Captain (retd) Safdar, Amjad Pervaiz, said that such delaying tactics were known to be applied by private parties but “we do not understand why NAB is resorting to such strategies.”
Justice Aurangzeb’s repeatedly inquired of grounds to grant adjournment. “I have never witnessed such a request in my 18-year-long career. This is completely unprecedented.”
“I am so sorry about it,” another senior prosecutor apologised to the bench as Abbasi offered to dissociate himself from the case. “You know the case inside out. We have utmost respect for you but …,” Justice Aurangzeb left the sentence incomplete.
However, Abbasi again asked the bench to decide on the application seeking adjournment and requested for more time to prepare arguments. When he attempted to delay proceedings by saying that the petitioners did not correctly list respondents in the petition, Justice Aurangzeb scathingly reminded him that the petitioners had already made required amendments.
Expressing his reservations over prosecution team, Haris said his client had suffered since the prosecutors deviated from their commitment to conclude all corruption references together before the trial court.
Justice Minallah said “you know that all the benches of IHC went out of their way to hear this matter” and sometimes suspension petitions are taken up for hearing after a long delay. “I got upset because of their [NAB] conduct,” Haris replied.
While dictating the order, Justice Minallah imposed a fine of Rs10,000 on NAB and directed NAB prosecutors to not only submit written arguments but also appear before the court on Monday and conclude arguments on the petitions.