ISLAMABAD: Accountability Court Judge Arshad Malik , enmeshed in an audio-video tape controversy, is hearing high-profile cases involving three ex-prime ministers and a former president besides others, filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Already, he has convicted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in one reference and acquitted in another case submitted by NAB on the direction of the Supreme Court contained in its Panama judgement.
“If the lawyers representing the leading accused raise objections to the judge’s impartiality and independence citing the audio-video tapes, he has to take a decision whether or not to continue proceedings on the references against them. Only he can recuse himself,” prominent lawyer Barrister Omar Sajjad told.
Another option before these accused, he said, is to approach the Islamabad High Court (IHC), under whose jurisdiction this accountability court falls, against the judge, referring to the contentious recordings.
Omar Sajjad said that Nawaz Sharif can also file an application during the hearing on his appeal in the IHC mentioning the accountability judge’s conversation in the audio-video in which he is attacking his own sentencing judgement and giving points to assail it in the high court. He added the appellant can refer to the pressure, coercion and blackmailing the judge talked about to convict the former premier.
The famous case of alleged money laundering through fake bank accounts against Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) supremo Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and several others, including tycoons and bankers is also being heard by Judge Arshad Malik . Both the brother and sister are in jail, and Zardari’s physical remand in other NAB-sponsored investigations is being regularly extended.
Some days back, Judge Arshad Malik indicted former Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and other accused in the Rental Power Plants (RPP) scam. However, the ex-premier denied all the charges after which the accountability court summoned witnesses to record their statements. The judge decided to frame charges against the ex-premier in relation to three RPPs, including Reshma Power Generation Private Limited, Gulf Rental Power Private Limited and Young Gen Power Limited. Pervaiz Ashraf is accused of misusing authority during his tenure as water and power minister for approval of increase in down payment to the RPPs from 7pc to 14pc, amounting to about Rs22b.
The judge is also hearing a NAB reference against another former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani pertaining to illegal award of a publicity campaign. NAB has nominated a total of seven accused.
The same accountability court of the federal capital is proceeding on a reference against yet another former Premier Shaukat Aziz. It has issued his non-bailable arrest warrants and declared him absconder. In the last hearing, the judge expressed displeasure over the continued absence of the accused from the court and directed to initiate confiscation of properties after ascertaining their exact ownership.
The NAB reference alleged illegal appointment of Basharat Hasan Bashir as Alternative Energy Development Board consultant on an MP-II scale salary package by Shaukat Aziz as prime minister. The appointment was dubbed as a violation of MP-scale policy guidelines and the Board’s regulations. Shaukat Aziz allegedly awarded consultancy retrospectively back in 2006.
However, on June 25, the same accountability court judge acquitted former federal law minister and currently a close legal aide of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Babar Awan, in the Nandipur power project reference. It had rejected a similar plea of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. Awan was facing the charge that the Nandipur issue was repeatedly brought into his knowledge for its resolution along with consultations with concerned ministries for issuance of legal opinion, but he in connivance with others knowingly did not protect the national interest.
The NAB has challenged Awan’s acquittal in the IHC saying that it cited 35 witnesses who were supposed to testify but the accountability court recorded statement of just four when Awan moved the acquittal plea. It added that the prosecution witnesses had deposed that the Ministry of Water and Power has repeatedly requested the law ministry [under Awan] to issue “sovereign guarantee” in favour of the consortium of foreign banks. NAB claimed to have sufficient oral and documentary evidence against Awan especially the prosecution witness Syed Naveed Qamar, ex-Minister for Water and Power, as well as other officials of the law and water ministries.
On October 5, 2018, a report, which was not denied, said that a key member of Panama Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and NAB Director General Irfan Mangi had a closed-door meeting with two judges of accountability courts of Islamabad, who were hearing corruption cases against Nawaz Sharif and his children. It lasted over 90 minutes in Judge Arshad Malik’s chamber. NAB prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar accompanied the NAB official during the meeting in which the references being heard came under discussion.
At the time, Judge Muhammad Bashir had announced verdict in a reference against Nawaz Sharif, Maryam and Captain (R) Muhammad Safdar, imposing various terms of sentence while two references against Nawaz Sharif were being heard by Judge Arshad Malik .
Mangi was appointed as Rawalpindi NAB chief during the trial of Panama references, which were being monitored by this office. He paid the visit after the court timing. After the session, Mangi had said that it was a routine meeting and he brought issues being faced by NAB prosecution and added that no discussion was held on the references.