In a landmark ruling, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday scrapped the recent amendments to the country’s anti-graft laws and restored corruption cases against public office holders, including former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was one of the major beneficiaries of the changes. The apex court was announcing its reserved decision on jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s plea filed last year, challenging the amendments made to the accountability laws by the then government led by former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif.
Nawaz Sharif, 73, is scheduled to return to Pakistan on October 21 from London, ending his four-year-long self-exile.
A three-member bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah issued a reserved judgment by a 2-1 majority. Justice Shah disagreed with the majority verdict. Annulling the changes by the government headed by Shehbaz Sharif, the court declared that amendments, like limiting the jurisdiction of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the anti-corruption watchdog, to the cases involving over Rs 500 million, were against the Constitution.
It restored corruption cases against public officeholders. The court directed that the cases withdrawn after NAB’s jurisdiction was limited to investigating cases below Rs 500 million be fixed for hearing in accountability courts.
It also declared the verdicts issued by the accountability courts null and void in light of the amendments made to the laws and directed the NAB to send the record to the relevant courts within seven days. The restoration of the old law may have implications of varying levels for several politicians, including former president Asif Ali Zardari and ex-premiers Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif, Yusuf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
They all benefited under the new law as the trial of those accused with less than Rs 500 million of alleged corruption was stopped. After the amendments were made, dozens of cases against powerful politicians and their relatives were sent back by the NAB courts last year.
Nawaz Sharif, who is set to return on October 21, ending his self-exile in London, where the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo has lived since 2019, may see the restoration of a Toshakhana case. In 2020, an accountability court declared him a proclaimed offender in the Toshakhana vehicles reference. Zardari and Gilani are also accused in the same case.
In the case, the NAB accused Nawaz Sharif and Zardari of illegally retaining expensive vehicles gifted to them by various foreign countries and dignitaries instead of depositing them in the Toshakhana. According to the country’s top anti-corruption body, Gilani, during his tenure as Prime Minister, facilitated Zardari in retaining the vehicles. Abbasi may face the LNG terminal case, while Ashraf will face the rental power corruption case. However, it is unclear if the caretaker government would challenge the verdict by filing a review in the Supreme Court against the judgment.
Since Justice Qazi Faez Isa is set to take over as the new chief justice on Sunday, it is too early to say anything about the fate of the verdict if a review is filed. After Chief Justice Bandial’s retirement, Justice Isa will be part of the three-member panel. As one of the judges already disagreed with the judgment, the attitude of the new chief justice toward the scrapped law would be interesting to watch. The coalition government had made several changes in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) ordinance of 1999 through the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Act 2022, which Khan challenged in June last year.
These included reducing the term of the NAB chairman and prosecutor general to three years, limiting the anti-graft watchdog’s jurisdiction to cases involving over Rs 500 million, and transferring all pending inquiries, investigations, and trials to the relevant authorities. After prolonged proceedings spanning over 53 hearings, the court concluded the case on September 5 and reserved its judgment, which was declared just a day ahead of the retirement of Chief Justice Bandial.
Bandial, who took office as the top judge in February 2022, would be retiring on September 16. Earlier, Khan’s lawyer, Shoaib Shaheen, said after the verdict that the amendments in the NAB laws were declared to be a violation of several articles of the Constitution.
“The amendments were prepared by the Sharif family’s personal lawyers,” he alleged, adding that the changes were made for the benefit of certain individuals.
(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – PTI)