ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court yesterday said the National Accountability Bureau’s interference in all cases of corruption was affecting the performance of other investigative agencies.

Justice Dost Muhammad said: “Now the NAB has started interfering in customs, narcotics, money laundering and corruption cases, which is not its domain.” A two-member bench, comprising Justice Amir Hani Muslim and Justice Dost Muhammad, observed the NAB should probe mega scams, which involved the amount over Rs 500 million. Due to interference of NAB, the officials of other investigating agencies were not performing their duties despite getting big salaries.

Justice Dost said the federal and the provincial governments’ agencies like FIA, Customs and Anti-Corruption Establishment had their own laws, but due to NAB’s interference, their work seemed to be overlapping with the Bureau’s work. He added the investigation under NAB was also different from that of FIA and ACE. There should be a mechanism clearly defining which agency had to proceed on what type of cases, he held. “There should be a policy to resolve overlapping of work of investigative agencies,” Justice Hani said. “For your own survival, you are involved in arm-twisting and the cases are not finalised over the years,” he told NAB officials.

NAB Prosecutor General Waqas Qadeer Dar said the FIA and ACE were required to take permission from the Ministry of Interior or the secretary of a ministry for taking action against their officials, while the NAB under the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 did not need such permission even to proceed against a grade-20 officer or a parliamentarian found involved in corruption. The bench directed Waqas Dar to provide a copy of the Bureau’s structure besides submitting a report on how many officials were working in it on deputation and how many officers of it were working in other departments on deputation.

The court also directed the prosecutor general to submit a report on the cases relating to NAB in the Supreme Court so that they could be placed before the chief justice to fix them for hearing in one bench. The bench objected to the NAB’s policy to acquit those involved in corruption cases on receiving embezzled amount under ‘voluntary return’ and ‘plea bargain’. Justice Hani observed: “A clerk involved in the fraud of just Rs 500 is not only convicted but also barred from holding office. On the other hand, if an official embezzles Rs 500 million of public money and returns Rs 100 million in installments under the plea bargain or voluntary return, he not only retains his job but also can get promotion.”

Justice Dost Muhammad said return of money under voluntary return or plea bargain amounted to disqualification. He said the NAB, on the orders of the Supreme Court, took action against an officer of the KP revenue department who had misappropriated Rs 200 million. “When that officer returned the embezzled amount under the plea bargain, he was not only reinstated but also got promotion and now he is a secretary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Similar things happened in Sindh,” the SC judge said.

The prosecutor general said under Section 25(a) of National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, the accused, after returning the embezzled amount under the plea bargain or voluntary return could not hold public office for 10 years. He said the NAB couldn’t remove government servants from their jobs as it was up to the department whether it liked to retain that person or terminate his services. The prosecutor general added the government was considering amending the NAO 1999. When the bench inquired whether the NAB had sent any recommendation to the government in this regard, the PG answered in negative.

Waqas Qadeer told the court that the NAB, with the assistance of the Law and Justice Commission secretary, had prepared a monitoring and evaluation system and uploaded the same on its website.