The balancing victim

  • The Sibtain Khan case is more complicated than it seems


NAB spent a considerably busy past couple of days. With the budget being unveiled, high profile arrests made by the accountability watchdog stole the limelight. Perhaps, that was the plan? The federal budget took away Asif Zardari with it, a person who was evading imminent arrest either way. The provincial budget, on the other hand, surprisingly saw a PTI minister being clawed into the merciless clutches of NAB.

Sardar Muhammad Sibtain Khan, a multiple-time member of the provincial assembly, who up till Saturday morning served as the Minister for Forests, Wildlife and Fisheries was taken into custody from his residence by NAB authorities who crept up on him in considerable numbers after dark.

At the outset, owing to media reports on the matter, the common man applauds the NAB for conducting accountability across the board and not sparing a sitting PTI minister. Such equality and unbiasedness would be commendable indeed. But when accountability reflects the tone and character of an underlying plan unfolding and resulting into an arrest which the NAB prosecutor fails to justify in court and ends up embarrassing himself in court being unable to answer the queries, then the muffled theory of ulterior motives and face saving measures by NAB cannot go unquestioned.

The plea of the opposition being targeted has to be addressed one way or the other. What better way than taking into custody a parliamentarian from the Prime Minister’s hometown, who happens to be a minister in the provincial cabinet? The balance, in the aftermath of the Zardari and Talpur arrests, would be proportionate.

Fortunately, I happen to be aware of the facts of the matter and therefore, it perturbs my moral conscience to not address a matter where a politician, who has maintained a clean slate, is being ferociously targeted in order to maintain a balance and more importantly is an erratic reaction to the NAB chairman’s romantic escapades which landed him in mortifying hot waters. Similarly, as a student of law, it alarms me to witness legal jurisprudence of the country being disregarded and played with.

What unsettled me the most; the accountability court judge posed all the aforesaid questions to the NAB prosecutors who resorted to desperate shouting in response, having failed to satisfy the legal curiosity of the judge

The case against the PTI minister is one of an illegal contract pertaining to his time as Minister for Mines back in 2007. The contract in question was awarded by the interim government following the dissolution of assemblies, a time when Mr Sibtain Khan no longer occupied the post and was probably preoccupied in campaigning to get himself re-elected. The approval for the said contract was granted by the interim chief minister who, interestingly, happens to be a retired judge of the high court. No wonder he hasn’t been brought in as yet.

More than a dozen people at the administrative and technical side who were responsible for the actual allegedly illegal actions were involved in the approval, award and execution of the said contract. Not one has been taken into custody by NAB. The secretary, who signed and executed the allegedly illegal contract remains at large free from all encumbrances, whereas a minister who merely forwarded a summary to the concerned department for further process and, subsequently, relinquished his charge remains detained by NAB. It would simply be unjust to not term the arrest as a publicity stunt in order to dispel the notion of selected accountability.

Either way, the more important aspect of the case which has severe legal consequences is the fact that the inquiry into the award of the said contract was initiated upon the orders passed by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court. The Hon’ble lordship was pleased to direct the NAB to conduct a detailed inquiry into the award of the contract and submit its report before it within a period of six months. The plot further twists. Pursuant to the orders of the Court, NAB submitted a detailed inquiry report in the Lahore High Court, duly supported by a sworn and attested affidavit. “No loss was caused to the national exchequer, only an attempt was made hence, no cognisable offence is made out and the inquiry is closed”, concluded NAB therein.

Ironically, NAB further stated, under oath, that no sufficient reasons were uncovered to even upgrade the inquiry into an investigation and placed reliance on a judgement of the High Court whereby NAB’s jurisdiction in matters where no loss has been caused was ousted. Conveniently, at the time, NAB closed the matter and submitted the report. The Lahore High Court endorsed the report and disposed of the matter by consigning the file to the record room. The order of the learned Single bench was assailed and upheld thereby attaining finality. A matter closed by NAB itself, the said closure being in the notice of the Lahore High Court, has now again seen the light of day on the orders of the NAB chairman and the minister, who evidently did not even play a role in the award of the contract, has been taken into custody and tainted with an allegation of corruption.

Does the NAB chairman enjoy powers to override the orders of the High Court? The reopening of this particular inquiry, without prior permission of the Lahore High Court is a serious transgression of power which being highly contemptuous raises several pertinent questions of law. Does this not amount to double jeopardy? More importantly, if no loss was caused, how it is the NAB’s jurisdiction to take up the matter since no recovery of any sort can be made from anyone?

What unsettled me the most; the accountability court judge posed all the aforesaid questions to the NAB prosecutors who resorted to desperate shouting in response, having failed to satisfy the legal curiosity of the judge. In spite of being seemingly convinced that the NAB evidently had no grounds of arrest against the minister, he went on to remand him in custody for 10 days, an order which wouldn’t stand the test of legality, if assailed.

I would simply conclude with a quote from Buddha;

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth”