The images that flashed on television in May 2016 were outrageous. Mammoth piles of money, suitcases full, as if it was Ali Baba’s cave of treasures were shown – except it was Balochistan’s Finance Secretary Mushtaq Raisaini’s residence. Caught with millions hidden under his mattress, it was clear that the official had been caught red handed.

And then, nothing happened. The scandal blew over, and the next scandal took the spotlight, until this week. We have come to the tail end of the saga and NAB, in typical fashion, has ‘cleared’ the offender, paving the way for his release from custody. How this transpired when so much evidence was against him is a lesson for all government functionaries. The lesson is that in Pakistan, anyone can get away with financial crimes, and the bigger the crime, the better the chances.

NAB seized over Rs730 million hard cash from Raisani’s house in Quetta, hours after he was taken into custody. He also owned about a dozen houses in Karachi, whose estimated cost was said to be around Rs2 billion, much beyond his known source of income. It should have been an open-and-shut case, but NAB is a forgiving institution.

The Executive Board Meeting (EBM) of NAB, which had put Mr Raisani’s corruption figure at Rs40 billion, accepted his plea bargain request for Rs2 billion lending credence to the simple axiom, that money trumps justice. This may be the biggest-ever plea bargain deal struck by NAB, and the institution is probably congratulating itself with this haul of money, but the conclusion is less than satisfying and does not feel fair.

Though NAB has to accept a plea bargain by a wrongdoer once they promise to return their ill-gotten gains due to a suo moto action taken by the Supreme Court in September, the NAB Chairman can still exercise his authority to do so otherwise since the Supreme Court had not issued any interim restraining order to this effect.

While Raisani will be “fully cleared”, the decision leaves a bad taste in the mouth. People embroiled in mega-corruption also have mega-funds and mega-political support to get out of their legal mess. NAB is then not an accountability institution, but a mere mediator, looking the other way so long as a criminal agrees to return a portion of the looted money. If financial crime is not treated as a crime, if strong precedents for punishment are not created to deter it, those who can will continue to embezzle and steal. This NAB decision only incentivises corruption by decreasing the risk attached to it.