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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has deprecated the NAB's practice of "freezing" the assets of an accused without going through the process given in the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.

The IHC in a judgment rendered in response to a writ petition filed on behalf of Muhammad Bilal Sheikh, former president of Sindh Bank Limited, who is an accused in two references filed by the NAB relating to the fake accounts scam.

Mirza Mahmood Ahmad, appearing on behalf of the accused, contended that the NAB routinely issues letters under Section 23 of the NAO, 1999, to "freeze" assets (including bank accounts) of an accused, and that this practice is against the fundamental right to life and property of the accused.

This practice blatantly contravenes the express procedure provided in Section 12 of the NAO, 1999 to freeze the assets of an accused, the counsel said and added that the NAB's practice was adopted to prevent an accused from exercising his rights under Section 13 of the Ordinance.

The court noted that the NAB investigations and subsequent trials often last for many years.

It said that in such situations, especially since no proceedings can be taken against officers of the NAB, a balance has to be struck between the potential recovery of ill-gotten gains and the right of the accused to life.

The Court further noted that the NAB "conveniently" avoids passing orders under Section 12 and that this "practice by NAB appears to be in violation of statutory provisions and should be avoided".

The Court ruled that the effect of Section 23 and the notice of caution are only to put banks and other institutions/departments on notice that certain proceedings are pending, during which property may not be transferred and no charge should be created on it but the effect of section 23 and the notice of caution do not affect the right of the accused to operate his bank accounts and make withdrawals for personal use, the court added.

This landmark judgment highlights the “excesses” of NAB, and declares them to be against statutory provisions.

Now, the accused facing investigations or trials, will at least be afforded the basic fundamental right to life and will be able to operate his accounts for personal use.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021