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NAB explain its position

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The accountability proces is continue and without any exemptions

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, Islamabad
May 01 - 07, 2000

Amid mounting criticism of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for its slow speed and poor performance, despite having all the conceivable powers to nab and punish the culprits, and a highly expanded organisational set up, NAB authorities thought it advisable to approach the press to explain their position to the general public. Prosecutor General of the organisation first addressed a press conference in Islamabad last week which was followed by two lengthy interviews to two different national dailies by the NAB Chairman Lt. Gen. (Rtd) Syed Amjad Hussain.

According to the general perception, the NAB which is fully operative for the last over four months has not been able to initiate proceedings against any new culprit. The two cases decided so far — Manzoor Watoo and Aftab Ahmed Sherpao — former chief ministers of Punjab and NWFP respectively — were instituted by previous government. The NAB has been given powers which no organisation ever exercised in the history of non-martial law governments. The NAB can arrest any one for 90 days without producing the arrested person in any court of law. The accused cannot apply for the bail even after 90 days when he is produced before a accountability court. The onus of proof under NAB laws is on the accused and not on the arresting authority. Under NAB laws everybody arrested is guilty unless he proves himself to be innocent as against the international law which declares "every one is innocent unless proven guilty". Majority of the people however believe that there were compelling reasons for such extra ordinary measures to deal with the complexcity of the so called white collar crime and the uncontrollable proliferation of corruption. Public, however, expected speedy results from NAB vested with such vast powers. Mr. Farooq Adam Prosecutor General of the NAB while updating the newsmen about the performance of the Bureau in Islamabad last week said that NAB has been able to settle default of 36 billion rupees which include 16 billion rupees of hard cash and conversion of 20 billion rupees of no-performing loan into performing loans. In addition to this, the Bureau has recovered over 200 million rupees of ill-gotten assets and the same amount is expected to be recovered in a couple of days.

The Prosecutor General said hundreds of millions of dollars have been transferred from Pakistan to overseas through illegal means and the NAB was trying to trace and locate the hidden assets abroad. Interpol as well as other foreign agencies are now showing better understanding of our efforts for recovery. The NAB has investigated so far 84 cases for trial in the Accountability Courts including 31 cases inherited from the former Ehtesab Cell.

Farooq Adam very strongly dispelled the impression that the accountability was directed against a particular party or individual. The very fact that out of 84 cases, only three pertain to the Sharif family is enough to prove that NAB was carrying out an even handed across the board accountability and is not carrying out victimisation.

Farooq Adam also did not agree with the impression that the process of the accountability was slow and lethargic. "The government cannot sacrifice justice on the altar of speed".

To a question Farooq Adam said that all the three cases filed against former premier Nawaz Sharif will be tried in the Attock Fort. He said money laundering case of Hudaibia Papers Mills and MiG helicopter case are already with the accountability court. The tax evasion and loan default case of Ittefaq Foundary is pending before the Ehtesab Bench of Lahore High Court and the NAB is seeking its transfer to the Attock Fort.

Farooq further said that a vast amount of money that was looted from the people of Pakistan found its way overseas. "We have very credible information that this has been systematically done by corrupt. We are pursuing very vigorously ways and means to bring back this money. The Chairman NAB had gone overseas to coordinate and he will be going again to US and other countries for this purpose. Frankly speaking we are more interested in bringing back the money rather than bringing back the corrupt who have fled the country".

Farooq Adam also dispelled the impression that some privileged ones were being exempted from the net of accountability. "Let me make it very clear nobody is exempted from the scrutiny of the NAB. Judiciary and the serving armed forces officials have been left out as both these institutions have inherent mechanism of accountability".

In a wide ranging discourse spanning of 2 hours and 3 hours to two national dailies of over NAB Chairman Lt. Gen. Syed Mohammad Amjad gave a candid review of this Bureau's performance. He talked about the loopholes in the system, legal and technical impediments coming in the way of ruthless accountability and the future strategies of his team to net the corrupts. The General minced no words in admitting that judicial conviction in white collar crimes was extremely difficult and a long drawn process.

Nevertheless, he said the Bureau has sent 50 strong cases to the courts and five more cases are in the pipeline which will be ready to go to courts from one week to five weeks time. Additionally the Bureau is at an advanced stages of investigation in about 300 cases mostly pertaining to corruption.

He said, the Bureau has also traced some of the Foreign Accounts/assets of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif while in Mr Bhutto's case, judgment in appeal before the Supreme Court is awaited for further actions in the Swiss Courts. The Bureau has hired the services of two reputed American firms for tracing of assets abroad. They will be paid for their services after the money is detected and repatriated to Pakistan.

General Amjad, does not quite agree with the perception that the process of accountability is slow and not upto the expectations of the people. It is a matter of perception "In my opinion the progress of my team is good", he said. We, without conducting media trial, have done well in six months as compared to our predecessors. The previous Ehtesab Bureau in 32 months investigated 440 cases and only 76 were sent to courts with few judgments. Lack of human resources and expertise, undocumented economy and certain laws and acts have seriously hampered the process of accountability." Slowly and gradually we are overcoming the problems and the process will be geared up soon, he said.

Without being specific, the General very cautiously admitted that his Bureau was looking into some of the defence deals, adding that the first case to be taken up by him will be the submarine Contract.

The NAB Chief very strongly dismissed reports that his Bureau will exclude armed forces from the accountability process. "Let me make it clear we are here to conduct across the board and even handed accountability. "My Chief has mandated me to do the job with a free hand, therefore, there is no question of excluding any one", he said. He said the serving armed forces personnel have some sort of constitutional coverage and the NAB Ordinance has thus excluded them, because doing anything contrary would have amounted to overriding the constitution. As far as retired officers are concerned we are investigating cases in this regard. The General took extra efforts to explain in detail the inherent checks and balances in the institution of Armed Forces which leave very little room for any serving officer to indulge in corruption or corrupt practices. And if anybody is found guilty he goes behind the bars in matter of days.

Regarding the judiciary, the General admitted that it was his personal and a conscious decision to exclude the superior judiciary from the ambit of NAB Ordinance. "I could not have come for it for short term tactical gains because the long term damage to the judiciary in the process would have been irreparable", he said. Any country can put up with laws that are harsh or unjust so long as they are administered by Judges who are above board. Nation falls when judges integrity is put in question because people feel that there is nothing worth defending. With this conviction, the NAB decided against the accountability of the judiciary. By doing so the government has now put a greater responsibility on the judiciary itself to invoke the inherent mechanism for the accountability of the judges. The General drew a lot of satisfaction from the fact that the Chief Justice of Pakistan was alive to the public concerns in this regard and has constituted the Supreme Judicial Councial to examine the conduct of Judges. "I think it is a good beginning", said General Amjad.

The NAB Chief also did not agree with the perceptions that some of the renowned politicians were spared due to their contacts with the government in office. Time alone will tell that we have spared no corrupt. But we don't want to indulge in a witch-hunt, neither do we want to repeat Nawaz Tiwana like episode. We also don't want to send half backed cases to courts. Therefore, the Bureau has to operate under the given laws and would not go beyond its legal framework. But since the country is facing an extra-ordinary situation with regard to deep rooted corruption, the government has introduced some extraordinary legal measures to deal with it. For instance it as to deal with the extra-ordinary situation that the much criticised clause of 90 days detention was inserted in the NAB Ordinance. Similarly 30 days period for trial and 30 days for the first appeal have been mandatory in corruption cases. The very institutions of Accountability Courts is an extra-ordinary measure. Most importantly the onus of proving innocence has been shifted to the accused. In past some corrupt practices like loan default and tax evasion were not considered to be a criminal offences. Under the new law these malpractices have been listed as criminal offences, said the NAB chief.

General Amjad said his Bureau was functioning well in accordance with Chief Executive's seven point agenda and PCO order No. 1 of 1999. He said fundamental rights are in place and all aspects pertaining to the judiciary remain intact and Bureau cannot go beyond the international judicial norms and processes when it comes to the dispensation of justice.

General Amjad continued that the Ex-Ehtesab Chief had done exhaustive investigations in Bhutto's corruption cases, but many other scams were left half way and investigations in those cases are inconclusive. His Bureau is taking leads from these files. The General said the Mehran Bank and Cooperative scams need fresh and additional investigations. The old Mehran Bank Report will provide a basis but fresh inquiries will be made, he said. Similarly, the cooperative and Land Scam need fresh investigations.

Regarding cases against Bhutto's Swiss Courts, the NAB Chief reported a good progress in them, The Swiss authorities are awaiting the outcome of the judicial process in Pakistan after which they will decide cases and appeals pending before them. In case of convictions Pakistan will request for the extradition of criminals if a treaty existed with such countries. For the repatriation of the looted money the General asked the nation to put its finger cross as the process is a long drawn and painstaking. Yet he was hopeful that there were more than 50 per cent chance of bringing back a part of the looted money to the country. We are hiring experts on percentage basis. This will motivate them to trace and arrange for the repatriation of looted wealth stacked in foreign banks.

He said the NAB is actively pursuing the cases which were filed by the previous government against Bhuttos in Switzerland. He recently visited Switzerland and held talks with the Swiss authorities on this issue. A team of legal experts so hired by the previous regime has been retained by the NAB. Similarly, the NAB has also motivated Pakistanis living abroad to provide information about the hidden assets of corrupt Pakistanis.

The NAB Chief said there was another mechanism from which the hidden money abroad has made its way back into the country. In his opinion the 15 billion rupees hard cash recovered from the arrested defaulters and corrupts have poured in from outside the country. This money has certainly not came out of the domestic banking system. This has been brought into the country in the from of dollars from foreign banks and then converted into Pakistani currency here. He said 18 default cases are in court and the NAB hopes to recover additional five billion rupees in cash from them.