After former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani refused to appear before the National Accountability Bureau for a fourth time, the accountability body was bound by law to arrest him. It could not, however, do so in the absence of a chairman.
The bureau has operated without a head for almost two months now, ever since the Supreme Court declared the appointment of former chairman Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari illegal.
“We will issue a summons to Gilani again… we cannot use any coercive measures to make him appear before investigators,” a senior NAB officer told The Express Tribune. According to him, without the NAB chairman’s approval, there is no way to get a warrant for the former premier’s arrest.
Only the NAB chairman is authorised to issue warrants for all government officers above grade 22, politicians and businessmen. Moreover, the chairman is supposed to sign the challan against Gilani which has to be submitted before the accountability court so that it may decide whether to issue an arrest warrant.
According to the officer, however, it is not necessary for the court to issue a warrant against the former premier. “The court can ask him to appear before proceedings… if he does so, the hearings can proceed without arresting him,” he maintained.
NAB investigators probing the Rs83 billion Ogra scam require information from former premier Gilani. He is accused of appointing former Ogra chairman Tauqir Sadiq – now in NAB custody – by bypassing rules and regulations. Sadiq is under investigation for issuing licences to CNG companies in contravention of rules, causing heavy losses to the public exchequer.
“Sadiq has divulged information regarding his appointment and the approval of the increase in the unaccounted for gas (UFG) quota… NAB needs to match his information with that of other suspects,” said the NAB officer.
Gilani, however, is adamant that he enjoys immunity from appearing before any investigation body as a former prime minister. “He did not respond positively to any NAB summons. But we have no other option until NAB gets its chairman,” the officer maintained.
The appointment of a new NAB chief is currently delayed due to an impasse between the government and opposition. Earlier this week, opposition leader Shah proposed Justice (retd) Rana Bhagwandas as a candidate for the post. However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif turned down the suggestion saying Bhagwandas could not be appointed as the NAB chief since he recently retired from the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC).
Under rules, Bhagwandas cannot be appointed in any other public office. In a recent meeting, however, Shah and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar agreed that the rules could be amended to allow his appointment as NAB chairman.
Shah is likely to hold a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz next week to discuss the prospect of amending the rules to allow the appointment of Bhagwandas.
Until the new chairman takes charge, Gilani need not be worried about arrest, however.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2013.