Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to provide a comprehensive record of the funds recovered through voluntary returns and plea bargains, relating to misappropriated funds in the last decade.
NAB is also required to disclose the amounts disbursed to the federal and provincial governments under the order. As a result of a challenge to amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) in August 2022, the decision was reached.
The three-judge panel led by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial noted that the records were required to assess the bureau’s performance because NAB allegedly made sizable recoveries in recent years.
Mumtaz Yousaf, the bureau’s additional prosecutor general, informed the court that NAB had recovered an undisclosed sum of money under the voluntary return programme and other misappropriated funds-related headings.
The judges, however, criticised the NAB law changes, calling them a “step in the wrong direction.” It was difficult to demonstrate that a particular accused owned the properties and its title documents, which was outside of his known sources of income, because the burden of proving the actual beneficiary of benami properties had shifted to the prosecution.
Additionally, the term “benamidar” had been redefined, and out-of-date laws had been implemented. The CJP noted that the actual beneficiary always operates properties or assets that are parked somewhere else remotely.
It was difficult to prove that the properties were acquired using tainted money because of the amendments. Makhdoom Ali Khan, who was representing petitioner Imran Khan in the case, said that NAB should have some evidence or facts to support an allegation of possessing benami properties.
The petitioner’s argument rested on conjectures and assumptions. Khan emphasised that by changing the law, the legislature was requesting that NAB present evidence against an accused before accusing them of corruption.
The attorney brought up the 2003 oil spill in the waters off Karachi, which under the administration of then-President Pervez Musharraf had polluted Pakistani waters and decimated marine life. Islamabad filed a lawsuit in an international court seeking damages, but it was discovered that the owners were hiding behind a number of layers.
Pakistan was awarded $100 million in damages, but afterward, someone wrote the prime minister a letter reminding him that the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill resulted in billions of dollars being paid out in damages.
Nothing was done to bring the owners of the ship to justice because the prime minister at the time lost interest out of concern that the bureau might bring an action against him for “damaging the national exchequer.”