PM’s legal team pins hopes on NAB’s stance
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and his coalition partners may have succeeded in effectively handling Dr Tahirul Qadri’s march on Islamabad but his government is still not completely out of the woods in the rental power projects (RPP) case.
Although the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Admiral Fasih Bokhari forcefully contested the Supreme Court’s directive last week to arrest all accused in the case, including Prime Minister Ashraf, senior legal advisers of the government are keeping their fingers crossed about the likely attitude of the court during the next hearing on Jan 23.
Talking to Dawn, a senior official said: “According to the NAB law’s Section 18, only its chairman can direct investigation, file a reference and issue orders of arrest of an accused, but it all depends on whether or not the apex court accepts this jurisdiction of the bureau”.
The official who is in the PM’s legal team said the government was hoping that with a few weeks left of the current government, the court might not push for the arrest of the prime minister whose role would be critical in the selection of the caretaker premier and the cabinet.
In its agreement with Dr Qadri the government promised to dissolve the National Assembly before March 16 and under the Constitution the prime minister and the leader of opposition will hold consultation to select the caretaker prime minister.
But, at the same time, the official said: “If one goes by the apparent mood of the bench, headed by the chief justice, the judges appear determined to get the prime minister and other co-accused in the RPP case arrested.”
The official recalled that the CJ had said last week that the court would follow the Constitution come what may.
The chief justice was responding to some lawyers’ criticism evoked by his Jan 15 order for the arrest of the PM.
Notably, former chairperson of the Supreme Court Bar Association and distinguished human rights activists Asma Jahaghir hit out at the court for what she said was its role in strengthening the hands of those who didn’t want democracy.
Some also linked the order to Dr Qadri’s sit-in because the scholar feverishly celebrated the court ruling.
Prominent members of the legal fraternity are also sounding confused about how the case may develop in the coming week.
Yasin Azad, another former chairman of the SCBA, said that after the claims made by NAB in the court that it had recovered the entire amount that had allegedly been lost in the RPP deals, it was very unlikely that the judges would insist on the prime minister’s arrest. And the NAB Ordinance also allowed closing a case when there was no loss to the national kitty, he said.
Secondly, Mr Azad said that with NAB having d taken a totally different stance it wouldn’t be easy for the Supreme Court to straightway issue directives for arresting the prime minister in a corruption case.
However, Mr Azad said, “the hearing on Jan 23 will be crucial and determine whether the apex court accepts the NAB’s plea.”
Above all, “I am confused who will arrest the PM if the SC persists with its demand and issues specific directives. For me, it’s too complicated.”
According to Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood, another SC lawyer, it entirely depends on the Supreme Court if the judges want to take a soft line vis-a-vis the government (PM), considering that it has a few weeks left before handing over the charge to the caretakers.
Even if the SC manages to get arrest warrants for the prime minister issued by passing specific directives, Mr Ashraf can apply for a bail before a high court and can spend his remaining few weeks in power unscathed. “However, it will definitely create serious problems for the government in its last days,” Justice Mehmood added.
Another SC lawyer said that regardless of NAB’s stand it was the apex court’s interpretation which would override everything else.
“One can only hope that sense prevails on both sides and the country smoothly progresses towards the next general election.”
Along with the prime minister, the SC has asked for the arrest of former finance secretary Salman Siddique, former water and power secretary Shahid Rafi, Pepco’s former chairman Ismail Qureshi and managing directors Munawar Baseer Ahmad and Tahir Basharat Cheema, member (power) Fazal Ahmad Khan, chief executive officers of the National Power Generation Company Mohammad Anwar Khan, Rafiq Butt and Ghulam Mustafa Tunio, chief engineer (CPP) thermal Qaiser Akram, Nepra chairman Khalid Saeed and Techno chief executive Sahuwal Abid Ali.