KARACHI: Trials in over 180 corruption-related cases face delays as three accountability courts in the metropolis are dysfunctional, it emerged on Thursday.
Currently, there are six accountability courts, better known as NAB courts, in the province — four in Karachi and one each in Hyderabad and Sukkur.
Judicial sources said that Karachi’s Accountability Court-I had fallen vacant on Aug 30 following the elevation of its presiding officer, additional district and sessions judge Rashida Asad, as an additional judge of the Sindh High Court.
These courts are supposed to conclude trial of a case within 30 days of filing of a reference
They said that the federal ministry of law and justice had not appointed any presiding officer of AC-I till date, thus all the pending cases had been transferred to Accountability Court-IV, which was the link court for AC-I.
In the meanwhile, the sources said that presiding officer of Accountability Court-II Aaliya Latif Unnar was granted ex-Pakistan leave for 45 days — from Sept 1 to mid-October. All the cases pending trial before AC-II were referred to AC-III, which was the link court.
However, the official sources said that the tenure of the contract of the presiding officer of AC-III, Dr Sher Bano Karim, who was also acting as the administrative judge of the accountability courts, had ended on Sept 16.
The lawyers and official sources said that the high court had approached the ministry of law and justice with the recommendation to extend the contract of Ms Karim, who was also asked to not leave the charge till further orders, adding that no intimation in that regard had been received from the federal government till Thursday evening.
“So, currently there are three courts virtually lying dysfunctional,” said the sources requesting anonymity. “Around 180 pending cases, including the high-profile ones, are pending trial.”
Statistics collected by Dawn from prosecution and judicial sources suggested that there were around 180 references pending disposal before the four accountability courts in Karachi, 42 in the Hyderabad court and 37 before the accountability court in Sukkur till the end of June.
NAB had filed these references against politicians, serving and retired officials of various federal, provincial and local government functionaries, real estate tycoons, their relatives, alleged frontmen and abettors.
The references pertain to their alleged misuse of official authority, corruption and involvement in corrupt practices in the government-launched schemes related to advertisement campaigns, accumulation of assets beyond known sources of income, scams involving amenity and commercial state land, cheating the public at large, etc.
Some of the high-profile cases filed by NAB include references against Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani and his family members, former federal minster Dr Asim Hussain, former provincial information minister Sharjeel Inam Memon, former Karachi nazim Syed Mustafa Kamal, real estate tycoon Malik Riaz’s son-in-law Zain Malik, former provincial minister for commerce and industries Rauf Siddiqui, MQM lawmaker Javed Hanif, former
federal minister for ports and shipping Kamran Michael, industrialists, businessmen, builders and their alleged frontmen and abettors.
The statistics further suggested that 45 references were pending trial in AC-I Karachi; 51 in AC-II, and 41 each in AC-III and AC-IV, till June 30.
In a surprise move, the ministry of law and justice issued a notification, dated Sept 24, instead of extending the contract of the presiding officer of AC-III, handed over the additional charge of the office of the administrative judge to the presiding officer of AC-IV Farid Anwar Qazi.
According to the notification, the additional charge was given to the AC-IV judge “with immediate effect for a period of three months or till arrival of a regular incumbent, whichever is earlier. ....”
Judicial and prosecution sources were surprised over the move and said that it would increase the burden of work on the judge of the lone functioning accountability court in the metropolis manifold.
“AC-IV is already working as the link court for the three other courts, which are lying vacant and handling their pending regular cases,” said the officials requesting anonymity.
Additionally, they explained, the additional charge of the administrative court to the presiding officer of AC-IV meant putting an extra burden of granting remands of the suspects arrested and the institution of the new reference in addition to performing other administrative tasks, etc.
Of the total graft-related cases pending trial before the six accountability courts in Sindh, around 24 new references have been instituted by NAB during the first six months of the current year.
The remaining 230 references were filed during the last two decades and the same were still pending trial owing to multiple reasons. The old pending references included two references dating back to 2005.
The references were filed by NAB as part of its anti-corruption campaign launched by former military dictator Pervez Musharraf and then withdrawn under the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). But the two references were reopened after the apex court declared the NRO void.
The accountability courts are supposed to conclude the trial of a case within 30 days of filing of a reference in terms of Section 16-A of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.
However, the lawyers, prosecution and judicial sources had been blaming one another for hindering timely disposal of graft cases.
With the three courts lying dysfunctional, they apprehended that the trials would face inordinate delays that might serve little the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government’s campaign against corruption and benefit the accused persons.