An accountability court in Karachi this week returned to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) a graft reference against Jamshoro Joint Venture Limited (JJVL) owner Iqbal Z. Ahmed, his two sons, and several others over a lack of jurisdiction.
According to a report published in daily The News, Iqbal Z. Ahmed, his sons Fasihuddin Ahmed and Raziuddin Ahmed, as well as Asim Iftikhar, Salamat Ali, Qazi Humayun Fareed and Mohammad Ramazan, were charged in 2020 by the anti-graft watchdog for allegedly laundering billions of rupees through corrupt practices. It cited sources close to Iqbal Z. Ahmed as saying the ruling had declared them innocent and the matter now stood closed.
The case was transferred from an accountability court in Hyderabad to one in Karachi on the orders of the Sindh High Court (SHC) last year, with the accused submitting an application to Accountability Judge-IV Shahid Pervez Memon seeking the return of the reference to NAB for lack of jurisdiction.
During proceedings, the judge observed the accused were neither public office-holders, nor had they received any monetary gain. He said they had also not committed any criminal breach of trust, as defined under Section 405 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with any property, including money or valuable security, entrusted by members of the public.
“It is matter of record that there is no number of hundred percent affectees who were cheated at the hands of the applicants/accused,” observed the judge, noting NAB’s investigating officer had also admitted in his reply that the accused were private persons. He said that, according to the application, there was no allegation in the interim and supplementary references filed by NAB that the transactions conducted by the accused or their companies were directly or indirectly connected to any public office holder, and that the funds, property or interest involved or belonged to the government.
“The NAB authorities in their reply have also referred to Section 4(4)(d) of the NAO, 1999, meaning thereby that they themselves admitted that this court has no jurisdiction to entertain the instant reference, and the judgment passed by the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan will not affect the case of the applicants/accused,” he said. Referring to the reference, he noted it had been submitted to courts concerned “without scrutinizing,” in compliance with the SC judgement.
Returning the reference to the NAB chairman for its presentation before the relevant court, the judge ruled that the accused—Iqbal Z. Ahmed, Fasihuddin Ahmed, Raziuddin Ahmed, Asim Iftikhar, Salamat Ali, Qazi Humayun Fareed and Mohammad Ramazan—would remain on bail until this happens, adding they would submit fresh bail pleas to it.
During the course of proceedings, the counsel for the plaintiffs had argued the Hyderabad accountability court had dismissed their application seeking to return the reference to NAB on March 7, 2023. He said the order was subsequently challenged before the SHC’s Hyderabad circuit bench, which then directed the trial court to return the reference to the NAB chief. On Sept. 15, 2023, he recalled, the apex court struck down some sections of the National Accountability (Amendment) Act, 2022, and the Second Amendment Act, 2022, resulting in the trial court restoring the reference to its original status and issuing notices to the accused.
The counsel argued that the apex court had only set aside amendments pertaining to public office holders and public servants, and also taken away NAB’s jurisdiction to handle corruption cases involving any amount lower than Rs. 500 million. “All the applicants/accused are private persons, and no public office holder is involved in this reference, nor any loss to the national exchequer has occurred,” he argued, pleading with the court to return the reference to NAB for filing it before the forum concerned.