While it seems that Nawaz Sharif and his party members are trying to exploit every legal loophole they can find to get out of the Panama mess, the accountability system is not far behind trying to cover every gap through which Nawaz could escape unscathed.
Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf informed the SC that a law was pending before the Senate that sought to amend the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999 by granting the relevant courts the authority to approve “voluntary return”. Article 25(a) authorises the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman to allow a person found guilty of corruption to pay certain portions of the embezzled money and be released.
The Attorney General’s reply to the Court comes after the SC judges asked the government for a comprehensive policy on this provision, with Justice Azmat Sheikh calling the provision a confession of guilt and a way to pay off the crime.
The development is still pending so it would be difficult to predict the likelihood of a more severe NAO. However, taking NAB chief, Javed Iqbal’s statements in consideration and of the fast actions of the accountability court, it is evident that the process is geared to be as swift as possible. Though he named no names, Javed Iqbal emphasised that the cases would be followed as per law and no delay would be tolerated. It is unclear where his sympathies lie but his statement on judging politicians only on merit indicate that he would not like to be implicated in a case where Nawaz, if found guilty, might be released on the Article 25(a) loophole.
From a legal point of view, a change in the law is a good move. The NAO was promulgated to deal with mega-corruption cases mostly, and in such cases, voluntary return would do little benefit. Money laundered in mega corruption scandals is unlikely to even be partially recovered and given back . Such provisions should only stand for small cases of corruption.
It is interesting to note that a discussion of change to Article 25(a) of NAO had been going on since January, where in a twist of fate, it was none other than Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who purported bringing changes in the law was to make the accountability process more stringent. It is not the first time that a political figure has fallen into a trap, he himself set up.