NAB law, procedures prove Mir Shakil is in illegal custody

ISLAMABAD: Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Editor-in-Chief of the Jang-Geo Group, is in the illegal custody of NAB as the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 does not authorise the NAB chairman to arrest anyone at the complaint verification stage.

A source who closely works with the NAB told The News that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest is a serious chargesheet against NAB itself. The source said that according to the Section 24(a) of the NAO 1999, “The NAB chairman shall have the power, at any stage of the (inquiry or) investigation under this Ordinance to direct that the accused, if not already arrested, shall be arrested.”

The above provision of the NAO 1999 clearly authorises the NAB chairman to issue order for the arrest of any accused at the inquiry or investigation stage. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was arrested on March 12 by the NAB Lahore following the orders of the NAB chairman at the “complaint verification stage”, which is the pre-inquiry stage.

The sources said that originally under the NAO 1999, chairman was empowered to arrest an accused at the stage of investigation. But in 2000 an amendment was made that made an addition of “inquiry” in the Section 24(a).

There is no stage of complaint verification in NAO 1999. Instead the complaint verification stage” was made part of NAB’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued for Bureau’s investigation officers in 2005.

The source said that in these SoPs’ the complaint verification stage is stated a confidential stage only to verify whether complaint is correct or not.

The source also shared the NAB’s SOPs with The News. These SOPs contain a chapter for “complaints handling” and defines complaint as, “Complaint means the allegation made orally or in writing to NAB chairman with a view to his taking action under the NAO-1999 that some person whether known or unknownhas committed an offence under the NAO-1999.”

These SOPs envisage that for the purpose of receiving, sifting and verifying complaints, a Complaint Verification Cell is working in each Regional NAB headed by Director/Deputy Director Complaint.

The functions of Complaint Verification Cell include receiving and logging of complaints; sending acknowledgment as per standard format to the complainant, however, frivolous/petty complaints and those not drawn attention may not be acknowledged; sifting of complaints for Executive Board; verification of complaints, authorised by the Executive Board, according to the parameters defined; present verified complaints to Executive Board for authorisation of inquiry etc.

There is no provision in these SOPs of issuing a call up notice at the complaint verification stage to the person against whom the complaint was received. Contrary to what the NAO-1999 and even the Bureau’s SOPs say, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was issued call up notice and even arrested at the “complaint verification stage”.

On February 28, Binish Nauman, Deputy Director (Coord) of “Complaints Verification Cell”, NAB Lahore issued a call up notice to Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman for his appearance before Ms Nirmal Hasni, Deputy Director, Complaint Verification Cell NAB, Lahore on March 5 at 10:00am. The subject of the notice read “Complaint Verification is under process with this Bureau”.

On March 5, as was required, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman appeared at NAB office, Lahore and handed them (NAB officials) a two page signed explanation. But the NAB officials refused to receive it. NAB officials asked him questions about the complaint the Bureau had received. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman told the NAB officials it was a 34-year-old matter so he might be given a week to go through old record. He told them that he would come back with all answers backed by documentary evidence.

Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman asked them to provide him with written questionnaire but the NAB officials refused to give any question in writing. Later, on Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman requested them at least to let him note down their questions.

First, they refused this request as well but later they agreed to it when Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman while pointing towards the CCTV camera installed there told them that it was being recorded that he was asking for even verbal questions but the NAB officials were refusing.

It was then that NAB officials dictated 13 questions that he had noted down on a piece of paper. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman told them that he would bring answers to these 13 questions on March 12.

On March 12, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman entered the NAB Lahore office with answers to those 13 questions that NAB officials had themselves dictated to him. With his answers, the Jang/Geo Group’s Editor-in-Chief also took with him all the relevant documentary evidence.

Just 20 minutes after his entry into NAB Lahore office, ARY ran the news that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman had been arrested. There is no explanation available as to when the NAB officials examined Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s answers and when NAB chairman signed warrants for his arrest. Warrants are issued at an advanced stage of inquiry or investigation, which in Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s case had not yet even begun. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was also cooperating with the NAB at the complaint verification stage where in most cases the accused are not even called up.

As per NAB policy, issued in October 2019, even at the inquiry stage it has to first send a questionnaire and upon receipt of answers, if it is unsatisfied, it should issue another questionnaire, upon receipt of which, if it is still dissatisfied, it can then and only then call that person for direct questioning. It has not been done in Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s case.

NAB follows four stages in every case. These stages are i) Complaint Verification, ii) Inquiry, iii) Investigation, and iv) Filing of Reference. In the case of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the NAB was in such a rush that it bulldozed its own procedures and arrested the Jang/Geo Group’s Editor-in-Chief at the preliminary stage of complaint verification.

Newspaper: The News