ISLAMABAD – Taking exception to NAB attempt to shield influential persons like Adnan Khawaja and Ahmed Riaz Sheikh, the Supreme Court Monday warned the bureau chairman it could direct for criminal proceedings against him.

“Not an individual, whatever his name or office he holds, but only the law shall rule the country,” observed a seven-member bench headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk while hearing the implementation of National Reconciliation Ordinance judgment.

The bench directed NAB (National Accountability Bureau) to made positive efforts for the repatriation of former attorney general Malik Qayyum but deferred the matter of implementation of NRO judgment, thereby giving Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani more time for implementation of court orders.

The court on March 8 had ordered the prime minister to write letter to Swiss authorities for reopening graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, which has so far not been complied. As the proceedings started on Monday, it was being expected that another contempt of court notice would be issued to Prime Minister Gilani over his persistent non-compliance of the court order, but the court deferred this matter until May 3, giving another chance to the PM.

At the conclusion of the proceeding when Justice Nasirul Mulk was dictating the order the newly inducted attorney general Irfan Qadir stood up on his seat and started saying that the court should take notice of tickers (news briefs) being run against the prime minister and NAB on private TV channels. Actually required to act as prosecutor, he instead became defender of the PM’s defence counsel, saying: “A private TV channel has become active against Aitzaz Ahsan” and sought court ruling to ban tickers against PM and NAB.

During the proceeding, NAB chairman‘s counsel Shaiq Usmani submitted inquiry reports about Adnan Khawaja and on Ahmed Riaz Sheikh. Adnan was first appointed chairman of NAVTEC (National Vocational and Technical Education Commission) and then chairman of OGDL (Oil and Gas Development Company Limited) while Sheikh was appointed additional DG in FIA. However, the court intervened and struck down their appointments.

The bench termed the reports unsatisfactory. Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa said: “It is utterly unsatisfactory and unfair.” He remarked that the NAB has exonerated a person who had authorised the appointments and targeting only those who followed the orders. He said those on top posts and having connections with the influential persons were being spared while the commoners were being punished. He said the culture of equality before law needs to be developed in the country.

The court noted that Adnan Khawaja was appointed first NAVTEC chairman and later OGDCL chairman on the orders of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani but no action has been taken against him, while Ahmed Riaz Sheikh was not investigated as an accused and stands exonerated.

Justice Khosa warned that the court has not yet closed the option of taking action against the NAB chairman. During the proceeding on January 10 the court had observed that NAB chairman has attempted to screen, shield and protect the relevant persons from criminal charges, and observed this illegal act may attract consequences in some criminal and other laws and the court could issue corrective directions in these circumstances.

Earlier submitting the report, Shaiq Usmani told the court about the action taken against the persons involved in the appointment of Adnan Khawaja and Ahmed Riaz Sheikh, rather the accused. He informed the court that the prime minister was not aware that Adnan Khawaja, at the time of his appointment as NAVTEC chairman, was NAB convict. The court questioned whether the PM was unaware of this fact even at the time of Adnan’s appointment as NAB chairman, but the NAB counsel did not respond.

He, however, said that they have started investigations against Khalid Ikhlaq, Rang Ali Zia and Ismail Qureshi, who concealed the fact from PM that Adnan was a NAB convict, while action has been initiated against Ahsan Raja, the then acting secretary of interior ministry, Maqbool Ahmed Malik, Uroogul Hassan and Ismail Qureshi who were involved in the appointment of Ahmed Riaz Sheikh as additional DG. The court directed the NAB counsel to furnish complete record along with the summaries and the dates of Adnan Khawaja’s appointments. The bench said it was the job of the court to decide the cases and not of the NAB, which is required to investigate the case.

Shaiq Usmani said they have summoned Malik Qayyum again and again but he did not respond. However, his son told the NAB that he was in London and recently underwent kidney transplantation. The NAB chairman counsel said they have sent questionnaire through Pakistan High Commission in UK for Malik Qayyum. But no reply of it has been received. Justice Nasirul Mulk questioned, “For how many more months the NAB would wait for the response?”

Earlier, Aitzaz Ahsan dwelled upon Article10A. He quoted judgments of Indian and Bangladesh courts regarding the fair trial. His main thrust was that a man can’t be judge for his own cause. The court made it clear to the PM’s counsel that no judge in the bench is sitting for his own personal cause, but their main concern is the national interest and they seek retrieval of looted national wealth from the foreign banks.

Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany said: “We have interest in the outcome of the case only.” He asked the counsel to substantiate as to what was the interest of seven judges, hearing the contempt matter against the PM. Aitzaz Ahsan persisted that the judges, who issued notice and then framed charges against the Prime Minister, cannot hear the contempt matter. Justice Khosa asked Aitzaz if they would acquit the PM in this case, would he still call it a wrong judgment and appeal against it. The hearing was adjourned till today (Tuesday).