ISLAMABAD: The apex court on Monday absolved a man of charges of corruption four years after his death in a case that exposes flaws of the criminal justice system and invites a debate about delays in hearing of appeals particularly against accountability courts’ judgments.
In 2001, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman had filed a reference against Col (Retd) Iftikhar Ahmad Awan pertaining to alleged irregularities in the Services Cooperative Credit Corporation Limited (SCCCL).
The Accountability Court in Lahore convicted the accused on June 12, 2002 and sentenced him to 14-year in prison, a fine of Rs250,870,000 and an additional fine of Rs500,000,000.
Col Awan, a brother of the SCCCL chairman Zulfiqar Ahmad Awan, challenged the judgment in the Lahore High Court (LHC) which on May 20, 2005 maintained the conviction and Rs250,870,000/ fine but reduced the prison term from 14 years to 5 years.
The convict challenged this in the Supreme Court which granted leave in 2009. Col Awan, however, died on April 22, 2015 after spending seven-years of his life in prison while the appeals were pending before the apex court.
Legal heirs of late Col Awan later petitioned before the Supreme Court for making them a party and in order to hear and decide the appeal on merit so that the stigmatic conviction may be removed. They claimed that the deceased was an honest and upright gentleman and had not made any fortune from the SCCCL. The Supreme Court allowed this application on September, 21, 2017.
The three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Asif Saeed Khosa on Monday took up the matter and renowned lawyer Akram Sheikh appeared on behalf of Col Awan’s heirs.
The counsel submitted that this was a classic case of highhandedness of NAB and their unconstitutional intrusion in judicial dispensation. “In this voluminous reference there is not even a single paper coming from a lawful source or custody, comprising any legally admissible evidence and unfortunately the courts below have been condoning their highhandedness by overlooking the same,” he said.
Sheikh said NAB is the first militarised investigating agency in Pakistan conceived and launched by Gen Pervez Musharraf’s regime and its affairs were headed by ten corps for pretty long time and this case pertains to those intensive ten corps surveillance days of the accountability process.
“Under the law laid down by this court, no person can be convicted unless there is a lawful proof against him coming from a lawful source and produced by either the custodian of the record or their office.”
He said he will not press his appeal if the prosecution can point out a single such document from the file containing plethora of documents.
The bench called upon NAB prosecutor Jehanzeb Bharwana to show from the record any documents coming from the proper custody or being admissible as evidence. Bharwana argued the case for about good 45 minutes but could not convince the bench.
Upon hearing this, the bench accepted the appeal by setting aside the conviction and sentence posthumously and acquitting the late Col (Retd) Iftikhar Ahmad Awan from the corruption charge. The court also annulled the fine as well.