ISLAMABAD: Continuing his tirade against the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Senate Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwala on Sunday accused the accountability watchdog of committing serious human rights violations and vowed to get it included among the internationally-blacklisted organisations as the bureau not only refuted these allegations but also asked accusers to either prove their charges within 14 days or face legal action.
Speaking at a second news conference in a week with two human rights and civil society activists Maria Tarana and Syeda Samina Shah at the National Press Club, Mr Mandviwala alleged that a number of people had either died in the NAB custody or committed suicide after receiving notices from the accountability watchdog and announced that the Senate would now hold NAB itself accountable for the first time in the country’s history.
Hours after Mr Mandviwala’s news conference, NAB issued a rejoinder and claimed that no accused had ever died in its custody and that the anti-graft watchdog would initiate action against those levelling allegations against it without evidence.
“No person has died in NAB’s custody. NAB rejects all such media reports and it will issue legal notices to all such persons who have levelled baseless and concocted allegations against NAB,’’ said the bureau’s statement without any reference to Mr Mandviwala’s presser.
Anti-graft watchdog asks accusers to prove charges in 14 days or face action
“NAB asks them to prove their claims about any death in NAB custody within 14 days otherwise legal proceedings will be initiated against them as per law,” it said, “reiterating its firm resolve that NAB is a human-friendly organisation which always ensures self-respect of every person and is a law-abiding organisation”.
“Now the contest is between Senate of Pakistan and NAB,” declared Mr Mandviwala, claiming that he had the support of each and every senator sitting on both sides of the aisle and all senators wanted him to expose NAB.
“Now their (NAB officials’) degrees will be checked. First time, it will happen that someone will hold NAB accountable for its deeds,” he said.
The Senate deputy chairman, who belongs to opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), said now NAB officials would be taken to task for keeping the “assets beyond means”.
“I am going to approach every ambassador in Pakistan. I am going to approach every human rights committee of every parliament I know in the world to inform them about human rights violations being committed by NAB,” he said, adding: “I will ensure that NAB is blacklisted internationally.”
During his news conference, Mr Mandviwala spoke for some time in English to address the international community, saying he was doing so intentionally.
“I have taken it as a mission. I will continue to expose NAB at every forum possible and I will go to every place internationally and expose this organisation and its violations in every aspect of life,” he added.
He said a session of Senate would soon be requisitioned to allow members to speak on the issue. He said he would now invite each and every person who had done plea bargain with NAB to the house committee on human rights to tell their side of the story. He said the proceedings would be held in front of the media and not behind the closed doors like NAB used to do.
“Now get ready, we will play with your (NAB officials’) respects,” he said.
He alleged that previously NAB officials used to “torture” people in the name of “voluntary return” for which they were not required to take the matter to courts. However, he said, after the Supreme Court abolished this provision, NAB officials had now started using the same tactics in order to have a plea bargain with the accused.
He said the courts could do nothing when they were told that the accused had agreed to do the plea bargain.
The Senate deputy chairman said that he would also approach Prime Minister Imran Khan and opposition leaders to unite on the issue and pass a legislation to limit NAB’s jurisdiction to matters related to corruption only. He said the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had itself introduced an ordinance to curtail NAB’s powers and to save the businessmen, but that ordinance lapsed due to failure of the government and the opposition to reach a consensus.
In reply to a question, he said that highlighting NAB’s actions and getting it blacklisted internationally was in the interests of the country.
Mr Mandviwala announced that next time he would do a news conference with the businessmen and with presidents of the chambers of commerce from Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Islamabad, saying that all of them were ready to do it.
He said that he had met the NAB chairman last week on the latter’s request and he was ready to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa too.
When asked why he was dragging the military into political affairs, he said the army was an important institution and if it supported the system there was no harm in it. Moreover, he recalled that it was the army chief who had himself invited the businessmen to hear their grievances and he had told them that NAB was doing wrong with them.
Similarly, he said, the businessmen felt strong when they were called for a meeting with the prime minister.
Speaking on the occasion, HR activist Maria Tarana presented a list of the people who had either died in NAB’s custody or committed suicide due to humiliation faced by them at the hands of NAB.
The list presented by her included names of Aslam Masood of Omni Group, Ijaz Memon, Advocate Zafar Iqbal, Raja Asif, retired Brig Asad Munir, Nasir Sheikh, Dr Tahir Amin and Qaiser Abbas.
She said that Brig Asad Munir had committed suicide in Islamabad after facing public humiliation because of NAB’s actions.
On the other hand, NAB in its statement, claimed that the plea bargain deals were approved by the accountability court on the request of the accused and not by NAB. Under the deals, it asserted the accused not only admitted his guilt in the accountability court, but also signed a statement and submitted first tranche of the looted money.
“Plea bargain is deemed conviction which comes under the domain of article 25-b of NAB Ordinance, 1999,” it added.
The statement said the accused after seeing proofs and solid evidence collected by NAB voluntarily opted for plea bargain after finding no other way out. It said NAB deposited the looted amount recovered under plea bargain deals in the national exchequer considering it as its national duty.
“Plea bargain is also part of various other countries’ accountability systems like USA, UK, Australia and India,” it said, adding that after acceptance of plea bargain the accused became ineligible to contest any election for 10 years and he/she was also not eligible to get any loan from any bank and his/her company was also blacklisted. In case of a government servant, his/her services are terminated after acceptance of the plea bargain from the court.
“Therefore, the impression given in media is not correct that plea bargain is approved by NAB,” the NAB statement said.
The anti-graft watchdog claimed that NAB’s efforts remained “remarkable” under the leadership of incumbent chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal in eradication of corruption and these had been appreciated by national and international organisations like Transparency International Pakistan, World Economic Forum, Pildat and Mishal Pakistan. Moreover, according to the survey of Gillani and Gallop, 59 per cent people had shown trust upon NAB, it said.
“NAB is the only anti-corruption organisation in Pakistan which has recovered Rs466 billion from corrupt elements and deposited in the national exchequer and its conviction ratio is about is 68.8 per cent which is one of the best conviction ratio as compared to other anti-corruption organisations in Pakistan,” the statement concluded.
The Senate deputy chairman had held a similar news conference on Nov 29 days after NAB informed an accountability court that it had frozen 3.1 million shares of different companies registered in the name of Mr Mandviwala with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) in connection with the fake accounts case.
The NAB chairman had halted the proceeding of the case and also held a meeting with Mr Mandviwala the next day. However, after his meeting with NAB chairman, Mr Mandviwala had announced that he would continue his mission to expose NAB’s alleged illegal activities.