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EDITORIAL: As the presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa came to a much welcomed conclusion, an unsavoury controversy erupted relating to the case. A day after a 10-member bench of the Supreme Court quashed the reference, appearing in a TV talk show retired director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Bashir A. Memon stirred up a hornet’s nest, claiming that in a brief meeting with him Prime Minister Imran Khan had mentioned a case, and that it was in the office of the PM’s Adviser on Accountability, Shahzad Akbar, that he came to know that the case was about Justice Isa and that he was asked to book the honourable justice on money laundering charges. Memon went on to claim that he had refused to do that, yet he was taken to Law Minister Farogh Nasim’s office where Member Inland Revenue—Operations Dr Ashfaq Ahmed, and PM’s Principal Secretary Azam Khan were also present. The Law Minister, he maintained, had opined that the FIA and FBR could cooperate and make a case against the judge, but he “put my foot down” and told them that acting against a judge was beyond the FIA’s remit.

Unsurprising, the Law Minister immediately came out to rubbish these claims, saying no such meeting took place in his office, and that the FIA has nothing to do with such cases. He challenged Memon to explain why had he waited for several months to say what he was saying at this point in time. Meanwhile, Shahzad Akbar dispatched a notice to Memon demanding he retract his ‘defamatory statement’ and issue an unconditional public apology, pay Rs 500 million as compensation for causing damage to his reputation along with Rs 2 million as legal fee, or face consequences. It needs to be noted, however, that the former DG-FIA is generally known as an upright and competent officer. In fact, the PM is also reported to have praised him for his professionalism, though, he was retired a bit prematurely - six months earlier than the due date because he had earned the displeasure of rulers, according to him, by his refusal to oblige them by foisting cases against certain people as they desired. He may or may not have an ulterior motive for levelling serious allegations against so many high government functionaries, implicating even the PM. In any event, it is his word against the others as long as his claims are not backed by credible evidence. He needs to properly respond to the legal notice.

This is not the first time, however, that the PM’s accountability czar has aroused controversy. That may have to do with the nature of his job or because, despite being unelected, he enjoys more power than most of the elected members of the cabinet earning him general resentment. Even so, his handling of various cases involving financial impropriety, such as the Broadsheet scandal, property tycoon Malik Riaz’s £190 million out-of-court settlement with the UK’s National Crime Agency, as well as old and new corruption allegations against opposition leaders have been raising uneasy questions. Also, it is not without significance that the PTI’s estranged leader Jahangir Khan Tareen, who faces certain cases of financial misconduct, has impelled Imran Khan to take Shahzad Akbar off those cases handing that responsibility to Senator Ali Zafar. And now, if the former DG- FIA is to be believed, the accountability adviser was instrumental in initiating investigations against Justice Isa. None of this shows this government in a good light. Regardless of the veracity of his allegations, the PM must ensure institutional independence of all investigative organisations and law enforcement agencies -something he has been promising all along to establish.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021