NRO beneficiary sent to jail from courtroom: SC gives NAB chief 24-hour ultimatum
By Nasir Iqbal
ISLAMABAD: National Accountability Bureau’s chairman Nawid Ahsan, facing contempt charges, assured the Supreme Court on Tuesday that its verdict of revoking the NRO would be implemented in letter and spirit ‘within 24 hours’, which could also mean the opening of money laundering cases related to $60 million parked in unclaimed accounts in Swiss banks.
Ahmed Riaz Sheikh, a convicted officer who had been reinstated and promoted to grade 20, was taken into custody by police in the courtroom and sent to jail after he withdrew his appeal against his conviction in a corruption reference.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan, Justice Chaudhry Ijaz Ahmed, Justice Tariq Parvez, Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa and Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday was hearing a suo motu case about reinstatement and promotion of the convicted officer.
Several anxious moments wee witnessed in the courtroom. At one point there was a feeling that the NAB chairman might be sent behind bars for flouting the verdict.
Other senior officers facing contempt charges — Establishment Secretary Ismail Qureshi, Interior Secretary Qamar Zaman, FIA Director General Zafarullah, Additional Secretary for Interior Raja Ahsan and Joint Secretary for Establishment Munir Ahmed — were also seen guessing about their fate, but heaved a sigh of relief when told that the matter would be taken up on Wednesday.
“I will forgo my leave and ask NAB’s acting chairman Irfan Nadeem to go along with the implementation of the Supreme Court order,” Mr Ahsan said in a hurriedly written statement after the bench rejected a list of measures adopted by the bureau for implementing the judgment against the National Reconciliation Ordinance.
The chief justice called for pursuing “cases both inside and outside (the country) with action against former attorney general Malik Mohammad Qayyum (for withdrawing money laundering cases from Swiss courts) in a meticulous manner”.
When the NAB chairman tried to explain that his office had sought opinion of the law ministry because the question of immunity of President Asif Ali Zardari was involved, the chief justice asked who had asked him to provide protection to him.
Mr Ahsan has tendered resignation but it has not yet been accepted by the government.
“Whosoever feels the need of getting protection will approach the court himself. But when the individual is not claiming the protection why push his case just for nothing.
“We will let you go if you give us an undertaking that tomorrow the money will be brought back to Pakistan. Otherwise, we will send you to jail,” the chief justice warned, while emphasising that NAB was the aggrieved party in the case.
“What to talk of implementing the judgment when convicts are being appointed to senior posts,” the bench observed and asked the NAB chief whether he had any personal problem with the court because he was not implementing the verdict.
“You cannot go to the law ministry for the implementation of a judgment delivered by a 17-judge bench. Why did you commit the contempt,” the chief justice asked the chairman. He said that he was worried while taking action against the official, “but you were not”.
“Which word of the judgment was not understandable that you went to the law ministry?” Justice Ramday asked.
When NAB’s counsel Abid Zubairi told the court that the bureau had taken into possession the record of Swiss cases, Justice Ramday said: “Do not make a mockery. What is the connection of the high commissioner (of Pakistan in the UK) with the Swiss cases and what were they doing in Geneva.” He asked where the inventory was and what guarantee was there that the record had not been taken away by breaking the seal.
“We will make an example of you so that no one in future dares to violate a court order,” the chief justice warned and asked whether the NAB had chased the $60 million and where the money, which should have come to Pakistan, had gone.
“If you are so rich, why not satisfy the claims of the state (over the money),” the chief justice said, adding that the chairman and acting chairman could not compensate the amount in question even by spending their entire life in jail.
“Why the situation came to such a pass where you felt the need to resign?” Justice Ramday asked.The chief justice warned that one day the chairman would be asked by every child of the country what he had done to justify his office.
The court also rejected apologies submitted one by one by the top bureaucrats facing contempt charges and decided to deal with the matter on Wednesday.
Ahmed Riaz Sheikh’s counsel Rasheed Ahmed Razvi expressed inability to represent his client after his plea seeking two weeks’ time was rejected by the court.
As a result, Mr Sheikh had to plead his case himself and he stated in writing that he wanted to withdraw his appeal against the conviction and was ready to face it because he felt sorry for the officers facing contempt charges because of him.
The court ordered police to take him into custody and NAB to seize his property in accordance with the conviction on charges of amassing wealth beyond his declared sources of income.
Mr Sheikh had been sentenced to 14 years’ rigorous imprisonment in 2001 and dismissed from service in 2002.
He was reinstated after he claimed benefit of the NRO promulgated in 2008 and later promoted as additional director general of FIA’s Economic Crimes Wing along with back benefits even after the NRO had been declared illegal. He was promoted to grade 20 on Jan 26 this year.
The court also summoned Law Secretary Justice (retd) Aqil Mirza on Wednesday to submit in writing what action had been taken against the former attorney general for withdrawing cases from Swiss courts, about removing NAB’s Prosecutor General Dr Danishwar and about setting up more accountability courts for quick disposal of corruption references.