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ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau has informed the Supreme Court that in light of the amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 219 references have been withdrawn and this figure will reach 280 as the process is going on.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, on Thursday, heard the constitutional petition of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan against the amendments in the NAO, 1999.

The NAB additional prosecution informed the SC that now the committee in the NAB’s office will examine these cases and decide about their fate.

Khawaja Haris, who represented the PTI chairman, informed the SC that in the Amnesty Scheme, 2018, many people had whitened their black money by paying a certain amount.

He said the people who earned billions of rupees through corruption were given benefits through the Amnesty Scheme 2018, adding through the amendments the persons who benefited from the Amnesty Scheme were given protection. He said the government was effectively providing them with the opportunity to get away with the convictions.

Justice Mansoor inquired are you saying that the Amnesty Scheme was “a fraud”, adding Amnesty Schemes were launched in the past and the people whitened their money. Haris replied that he was not saying that the scheme was a fraud. Justice Mansoor then questioned that if the Amnesty Schemes’ documents are confidential then how he has information about such persons and the billions of rupees in transactions.

NAO amendments: Imran should have raised objections in parliament: SC

The counsel responded that he had seen this in the JIT reports. He said that the definition of “private person” has been changed.

The chief justice asked the counsel that now you want that the ordinary citizens who availed advantage under the Amnesty Scheme, harassed. He said that the amendments justify giving them protection. The court observed that due to the NAB law many businessmen have shifted their businesses to other countries in order to avoid unnecessary harassment.

The chief justice commended the drafting of the National Accountability (Amendment) Act, 2022. He said in a short time (of two to three months), the federal government has prepared it. Haris said the credit of its good drafting also goes to the previous government.

Haris said that the benchmark of Rs500 million is set as an offense under the NAB law. Upon that, Justice Ijaz said it means corruption of below Rs490 million is justified but if anyone takes a bribe of more than Rs500 million then it will be wrong.

He said that under the amendments a person, who was convicted by the court of his sentence as well as the conviction will be wiped out and would ask the NAB to return his money which he had paid in plea bargain or voluntary return as he had made the payment under duress.

Justice Ijaz said the sentence can go away but whether the conviction will also be wiped out. Isn’t it akin to a Presidential pardon? The pardon wipes out the sentence but the conviction remains.

He said the concept of voluntary return or plea bargain is taken from the UK and the USA so the person instead of wasting time and money is released by paying money. Haris said that in the plea bargain the person confesses his crime and then make arrangements with the approval of the court to make payment of the monetary gain.

Justice Mansoor noted that if in the murder cases a murderer makes a settlement with the deceased’s family then he is acquitted then why not it is possible under the amendments. The case was adjourned until Monday (Oct 10).

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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