Redefining power of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to investigate ex-military men, especially retired generals, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) yesterday directed the bureau to proceed against the former military ruler Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf for allegedly accumulating assets beyond his known sources of income.
The former president was previously protected from prosecution due to his being a serving military officer and also head of the state.
A division bench of the IHC comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Aurangzeb issued the landmark judgement on a petition filed by retired Lt Col Inamur Rahim in 2014 seeking probe against Musharraf for alleged corruption.
The judgement has cleared a 19-year-old ambiguity in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999 due to which NAB had always shown reluctance to proceed against retired army officers despite complaints of mega corruption against them.
In his complaint, the petitioner had asked NAB to hold an inquiry into the allegation that the general in his nomination papers for contesting elections had declared assets which were beyond his known sources of income.
The bureau, in a letter dated April 25, 2013, informed the retired colonel that his complaint could not be entertained for want of jurisdiction, because as a member of the armed forces the general was immune from being proceeded against under the NAO.
The IHC verdict discussed in detail the scope of NAO and its applicability to retired military personnel.
“In the light of the above discussion retired General Pervez Musharraf is amenable to be proceeded under the [NAB] Ordinance of 1999 and thus investigated, tried or convicted thereunder because of two eventualities; firstly, for having held the constitutional post of the president of Pakistan and secondly, clause (vi) of section 5(m) of the Ordinance of 1999 is attracted because he had resigned and stands retired from the Armed Forces of Pakistan,” the division bench declared.
With the ruling, the IHC has confirmed that everyone, including retired military officials, can be tried under NAB laws if found involved in corruption or corrupt practices.
Previously, several senior military officials, most notably former naval chief Admiral (retd) Mansurul Haq, Maj Gen (retd) Khalid Zahir Akhter, and Lt-Gen (retd) Muhammad Afzal Muzaffar have faced NAB cases. Haq’s case ended with a $7.5 million plea bargain, while the latter two were found guilty by a court in the NLC scam.
The verdict further said, “For what has been discussed above, we are satisfied that the bureau has indeed erred in misinterpreting the provisions of the NAB Ordinance of 1999 by refusing to consider and entertain the complaint, which had been filed by the petitioner.”
Hence the IHC bench declared NAB’s written refusal to entertain the complaint against Gen Musharraf on April 25, 2013 “illegal and has been issued without lawful authority”.
The court ruled: “The bureau is vested with the power and jurisdiction to consider the complaint of the petitioner and after such consideration if it is of the opinion that an offense under the Ordinance of 1999 is prima facie made out, then it will become a duty of the latter to proceed to inquire, investigate and take all other steps mandated under the Ordinance of 1999.”
Musharraf came to power in a military coup in October 1999 and served as the tenth President from 2001 until tendering resignation in August 2018, to avoid impeachment by the parliament.