ISLAMABAD -  The Supreme Court on Monday restrained the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairperson from exercising the provision of voluntary returns (plea bargain) under Section 25 (a) of NAO, 1999.

The court sought list of the people entering into voluntary returns and said those who have availed it should be proceeded against so that they could not hold public office.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, heard suo motu case on the plea bargain and voluntary returns.

The court ordered the NAB prosecutor general to provide detail of the amount received in plea bargain which the NAB deposited in the national kitty.

Justice Ameer Hani Muslim said the provision of voluntary returns extended to the NAB to eradicate corruption from the society had rather encouraged the corruption.

He said through Section 25 (a) the NAB had multiplied corruption, adding in the first instance they would stop the chairman from exercising this power.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed said the provision of plea bargain was allowing people to commit corruption and later on enter into voluntary returns, pay small portion of it and go scot free. “This is unheard in the whole world that letters are written to the accused and given him option of voluntary returns,” he remarked. He said a person can visit the NAB office to settle the matter over a cup of coffee and save his job.

The court observed that many MNAs, MPAs and high-ranking officials opted for plea bargain, but they were still enjoying the office.

According to the NAB report submitted in the last hearing, 1,584 civil servants had entered into voluntary return and deposited Rs 2.022 billion. Of them, 165 are federal government servants while the rest are provincial employees.

Justice Muslim said acquitting an accused was a judicial matter and this power could not be given to the executive, especially when it entailed punishment.

He said if a person embezzled Rs 200 million, but paid Rs 200,000 or Rs 50,000 to the NAB through voluntary return, he was allowed to go scot-free.

Justice Saeed said that if the FIA or the Anti-Corruption Establishment arrested an officer for taking bribes, he was acquitted or punished, but in the NAB the accused would benefit from voluntary return.

The attorney general said in the original law it was not there, but the provision of voluntary return was inserted later.

When the court asked the NAB prosecutor general how many people had benefited from voluntary returns, Waqas Qadeer said he did not have the information.

Upon that Justice Hani remarked: “80 percent people whom the NAB exonerated are still holding offices and you do not have the information.” Justice Hani said the NAB, through the voluntary returns, takes some amount from an accused and releases him who returns to corrupt practices.

The chief justice questioned whether there was a procedure for payment of instalments. NAB Prosecutor-General Waqas Qadeer Dar told that there was a standard operating procedure of it and a person who entered into voluntary return had to pay 34 percent in the beginning.

The case was adjourned until November 7.

Meanwhile, the same bench hearing illegal appointments within the anti-corruption watchdog directed the NAB to submit complete record of the employees who had joined the bureau on deputation but were later absorbed and given promotions.

Justice Hani said Section 28 of NAO and the NAB Employees’ Terms and Conditions of Services (TCS) Rules, 2002, were contrary to the constitutional provisions.

He said the director generals who had come to the NAB on deputation were absorbed without the competitive exams, which was unlawful.

The court, directing the NAB to submit employees’ record, deferred the case until November 2.