111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Jumping the gun

Formed on orders of the Supreme Court (SC) to investigate the multi-billion rupees fake bank accounts scam, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on Dec 31 last submitted its final report before a two-member SC bench comprising Chief Justice (CJ) Saqib Justice Nisar and Justice Ijazul Ahsan. Probing into 32 fake accounts and the transactions associated with these accounts, the JIT report named 172 individuals, among them are former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, Pakistan People’s Party Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, as well as Anwar Majeed and Abdul Ghani Majeed of Omni Group.

The Interior Ministry subsequently placed the names of all 172 named on the Exit Control List (ECL). This displeased the SC which immediately summoned the Federal Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi who was asked why the names were placed on the ECL when the SC had yet to review the JIT report. Justice Nisar asked Afridi how the government could do this without SC’s approval. The Federal Cabinet was asked to reconsider this in the next Cabinet meeting. “Maybe the Cabinet approved the summary in a haste. Now the government should look into each and every case separately,” said the CJ. The PTI government is immediately complying with the SC instructions.

The JIT report is an exhaustive document that makes the case “open and shut” with nothing left to doubt. All the bank accounts were opened in the names were not of the people who actually owned the money. Under any law in the world, this is an illegality committed by those who opened it. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s response to the JIT report was as if the matter had been proven beyond all reasonable doubt. While irrefutable connections were found against those named in the JIT all the proceedings must be in accordance with the laid down laws. Government should not have acted as hastily as it did and should have exercised more patience. The JIT report was treated as a judicial verdict and all those named in the JIT report were summarily found guilty. Even if it is known that someone is guilty, he must get the full benefit of the doubt and must be allowed to go through the due process of law. As has become a recurring theme for the Imran Khan regime, it appears that bad advice was given or rendered with motivation, most probably by those who do not believe in PTI and by default allowed the benefit of this to go in favour of the accused persons.

The JIT has a very important role; its job is to investigate and make a case, provide recommendations and conclusions and submit it to the court. It is up to the court to decide on a further course of action, whether to order further investigation, send it to trial, etc. Until that happens the government should not do anything, taking such unilateral decisions frustrates the process of accountability while putting the whole process in doubt and making the objective questionable. This may have not dawned on the government but this is exactly what the other side, i.e., the accused in the JIT, wants for the government to take measures that will end up politicizing the issue and making it more controversial.

Amidst all the daily bickering and the blame game being played out on television talk shows, the government and the opposition seem to ignore fairness, legal rights, the due process of law and what democracy is all about. Even before the JIT was revealed in the court, selective portions were leaked to the media who latched onto it gleefully, giving the impression of a media trial to prejudge the final outcome. While the report against Asif Zardari and others that earlier was believed to be mere talk has revealed evidence that to many might appear to be irrefutable but these have to be proven in a court of law. The SC is the final authority about actions to be taken, for credibility in the course of justice, the government should let the court decide and then carry out its bidding, this would be the most prudent action to sort out the legal merits of this case. PTI must not jump the gun!

Ikram Sehgal, "Jumping the gun," Business Recorder. 2019-01-04.
Keywords: Law and Humanities , Supreme court , Joint Investigation , Federal cabinet , Important role , Blame game , Media trial , Legal merits , JIT , PTI , ECL