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NAB Chairman reiterated his decision not to reopen money laundering references against PM family

22 February, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was on Tuesday frustrated by the apparent stubbornness of the heads of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), who stood their ground when grilled on actions taken against the Sharif family and those initiated in the wake of the Panama Papers leaks.

NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry reiterated his earlier decision to not reopen money laundering references against the Sharifs, which also implicated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“I will stand by my views,” the NAB chief said when asked point-blank by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa whether he intended to revisit his earlier opinion where he opposed the idea of challenging the Lahore High Court’s March 11, 2014, judgement quashing the reference.

The Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference was initiated on the basis of an April 25, 2000, confession of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, where he conceded his role in the alleged laundering of roughly Rs1.2 billion on behalf of the Sharifs through fictitious accounts.

Judges ask NAB chairman to reconsider decision to not pursue references against Sharifs
“It surprises the court why NAB refrains from moving an appeal when it is a chance worth taking,” regretted Justice Khosa, who heads the five-member bench.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed also told the NAB chairman that he would have to face the consequences for his inaction, while Justice Khosa cautioned Mr Chaudhry, saying “the gentleman may not survive” if the court detected any malice in his actions.

The NAB chairman was given an opportunity to reconsider his stance when Prosecutor General Waqas Qadeer Dar read out NAB’s opinion, which suggested that any appeal against the high court judgement would be construed as a “witch-hunt” and bring a bad name to the bureau.

“Is it bringing a good name to the bureau now?” Justice Khosa wondered, while Justice Saeed quipped that there was nothing legal about this legal opinion. He observed that in ordinary cases, NAB always came knocking at the court’s door to challenge any bail that was granted to an accused.

The NAB chairman, however, insisted that the opinion was formulated after thorough deliberations. He then surprised the court by saying that the bureau was cognisant of its responsibilities and was answerable only to “the regulators”.

This triggered a volley of questions.

“Who is the regulator you are waiting for?” Justice Khosa asked, recalling that the word had also been used in the Qatari letter, but was not comprehensible in the given context.

“Where does the regulator come in?” Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan wondered, asking where in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) it was stated that the chairman would wait for the regulator before making a decision.

“Are you being regulated by someone?” asked Justice Gulzar Ahmed, to which the chairman replied that he was regulated by the law.

When asked to read the law, the prosecutor general read out different sections of the NAO, but none barred the bureau from taking any action in the matter.

The court’s frustration was palpable when Justice Khan regretted that the court should have been disposing of a huge backlog of cases had the institutions done their jobs. “Is it our job to shake you out of your slumber?” the judge deplored.

“We are not asking you to go after people to arrest them, but at least look into their cases,” Justice Khosa said.

FBR Chairman Dr Mohammad Irshad also failed to meet the court’s expectations, leading Justice Khosa to tersely remark: “Thank you very much for not assisting the court.”

He told the court that the board only looked after tax matters, adding that it did not have a bilateral treaty with Panama — a Caribbean tax haven.

“It took you six months to immediately react and get to the Foreign Office (FO)... when the distance between the FBR and the FO is not thousands of miles... both offices are situated on Constitution Avenue,” Justice Saeed regretted.

But the FBR chairman, assisted by Additional Attorney General Mohammad Waqar Rana, told the court that the board had reached out to the people named in the leaks and issued notices to 344 individuals on Sept 2, 2016.

Of the 344, 39 turned out to be non-resident Pakistanis, 55 denied the allegations, 12 had passed away while 72 admitted to owning offshore companies, the chairman said, adding that proceedings were under way and the relevant documents were being scrutinised.

In her Nov 21, 2016 reply to the FBR, the chairman explained, Maryam Nawaz had taken the plea that she neither owned any property abroad, nor had any offshore investments.

Similarly, Hussain Nawaz, in his Nov 26, 2016 reply, took the stand that he was issued the notice on an incorrect understanding of the law, adding that he was an NTN holder but had been a resident of Saudi Arabia since Dec 2000.

When Justice Gulzar asked whether they had closed the file, the chairman said the FBR was in the process of confirmation and had not closed any proceedings.

But Justice Ijazul Ahsan inquired whether or not Hussain had required a new NTN, since all NTNs issued between 1998 to 2000 stood cancelled in 2002.

The AAG informed the court that according to the FBR database, Hussain Nawaz still had an active NTN number, leading Justice Khosa to observe: “You are waiting for the replies but have done nothing.”

Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf, in his arguments before the court, questioned the nature of the petition seeking the prime minister’s disqualification.

The present case, he argued, was in the nature of the writ of quo warranto, where the prime minister was asked to explain why he was holding the office. He recalled that a similar petition against PTI chief Imran Khan was also pending before the court.

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