The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday dismissed the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) appeals against former president Asif Ali Zardari’s acquittal in references that went back to the 1990s.
NAB had filed these references against Zardari some 25 years ago. The PPP leader was later acquitted in 2014 and 2015.
In an application filed in the IHC on Wednesday, NAB’s prosecution contended that further pursuing these cases would be futile as the available evidence was based on photocopies, didn’t comply with the Qanoon-i-Shahadat (law of evidence) and sought to withdraw its appeals.
Presiding over today’s hearing, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah said the accountability watchdog’s case was not based on merit. “The court told you many times that this appeal is not warranted on merit,” he added.
NAB Additional Prosecutor General Jahanzeb Khan Bharwana agreed with the judge’s remarks, adding that that is why the relevant authority had approved their withdrawal and the watchdog had also submitted a request to withdraw the case.
“We are accepting NAB’s request to withdraw the appeals and also rejecting them on the basis of merit,” the IHC chief justice said, further pointing out that the appeals were not even justified on the basis of merit.
Justice Minallah next asked the NAB prosecutor if the institution had conducted any inquiry about the missing case record to which the latter responded that an investigation was ordered.
“Do you not know where the records of the cases went?” Justice Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan enquired, to which Justice Minallah remarked: “They (NAB) know where the records went.”
He pointed out that NAB had said in the last hearing the record went missing somewhere between the accountability court and Supreme Court (SC).
“Are you saying that the registrars made those records disappear?” Justice Minallah questioned to which Bharwana reiterated that an inquiry on the matter was ordered.
Background of missing case records
In 2020, NAB informed the IHC that records of four old references filed against Zardari in the 1990s had gone missing.
The original record in the assets reference against the former president had reportedly gone missing from the custody of an accountability court, besides the original case record of SGS and Cotecna corruption references, in which he had also been acquitted.
On Nov 24, 2015, the Islamabad accountability court exonerated Zardari from charges of using an official position for monetary benefits in the 1998 SGS-Cotecna corruption references.
The references accused Zardari and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto of receiving six per cent of the total amount as kickbacks for awarding pre-shipment inspection contracts to SGS and Cotecna.
According to the ARY Gold reference, Benazir, Zardari and others allegedly allowed ARY Gold owner Haji Abdul Razzaq to import gold and silver without paying duties between 1995 and 1997, inflicting a hefty loss to the national exchequer.
Interestingly, the investigation officer in the ARY corruption reference disowned the evidence when he recorded his statement before the accountability court, which also noted this aspect while acquitting Zardari.
In 2014, the accountability court acquitted Zardari in the ARY Gold and Ursus tractors references.
The Ursus reference was about the alleged misappropriation of funds in buying 5,900 Russian and Polish tractors at a cost of Rs150,000 each for the Awami Tractor Scheme.
Zardari was one of the main accused along with Benazir. However, her name was later removed from the reference.
The tractors purchase deal allegedly caused a Rs268.3 million loss to the former Agriculture Development Bank of Pakistan (now the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited) and Rs1.67 billion to the State Bank of Pakistan.
In December last year, Bharwana, informed the IHC that the original record of the reference had gone missing.
The court noted at the time that it took the NAB seven years to realise that the appeals were filed without the original record, asked how it happened, and warned of penalising the bureau for wasting the court’s time.
Bharwana had then told the court the record had gone missing while it was being transported from the Lahore High Court to the SC.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah pointed out that the accountability court had acquitted the former president of the charges on merit, adding that it (the appeals) strengthened the perception that NAB’s references were politically motivated.