NAB does not have power to raid houses of accused in graft cases without search warrants: SHC

The Sindh High Court (SHC) has barred the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from carrying out raids on the residences accused persons without search warrants. NAB has already been facing relentless criticism for selectively targeting political opponents of the ruling party.

Can NAB raid houses

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Monday barred the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from carrying out raids on the residences of Sindh Irrigation Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal and his relatives.

A two-judge bench of the high court gave this restraining order while hearing bail petitions of the PPP minister and others. While deliberating over an important question – Can NAB raid houses without search warrants? – the court extended the interim bail granted to him as well as Zafar Siyal and Jameel Soomro until November 12 and sought a progress report from the bureau on its ongoing inquiry against them.

The bench observed that the national graft buster doesn’t have powers to raid houses without a search warrant, nor can it persecute women by conducting raids without any plausible reason.

Justice KK Agha said NAB officials ought to be accompanied by female police officers during a house raid. A counsel for the PPP minister complained to the judges that officials of the bureau raided the residences of his client’s father, late uncle, and other relatives without any search warrant and harassed their female family members.

The NAB prosecutor informed the court that the corruption watchdog has completed the assets beyond means inquiry against Sohail Anwar Siyal but it is yet to calculate the value of his properties. He sought time to complete the inquiry.

NAB has been accused of targeting political opponents of the ruling party. Lawmakers from the former ruling party, PML-N, claim that the premier is directly involved to target his rivals. However, the NAB has been making several attempts to clarify its neutrality. In recent days, the superior courts have also been raising questions about the working of the anti-corruption watchdog.

SC slams NAB in its latest judgment

In a detailed, 87-page ruling, penned by Justice Maqbool Baqar, the court highlighted severe lapses in NAB’s due process and legal procedure, the definition, and purpose of bail, and due processes in criminal cases. This judgment is the reason behind the demand to abolish NAB.

The court noted about NAB, that its “conduct throughout this case is a clear manifestation of utter disregard for law, fair play, equity, and propriety”.

“In this country, it would be quite contrary to the concept of personal liberty enshrined in the Constitution that any person should be punished in respect of any matter, upon which, he has not been convicted or that in any circumstances, he should be deprived of his liberty upon only the belief that he will tamper with the witnesses if left at liberty, save in the most extraordinary circumstances.

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Justice Baqar further underlined that “all civilized societies recognize the principle that punishment comes only after conviction, and the presumption of innocence subsist with the accused, till he is handed down the punishment after trial”. “It hardly needs any reiteration that the detention either pre-trial or during trial causes great hardship,” the judgment added.

Can NAB raid houses? 

In 2019, Justice (Retd) Javed Iqbal, Chairman NAB, made it clear that the NAB law was not a black law. “Many Socrates and Platos have come to life who have never read the NAB law but still criticize and call it a black law,” said the NAB chairman. He then maintained that the people should look at how much looted money NAB has recovered.

While addressing a gathering, the chairman categorically rejected what he termed as “malicious propaganda” against the watchdog, while vowing to continue work according to the Constitution of Pakistan.

The NAB chairman said, “If NAB was a black law, the Supreme Court would have abolished it.” “This is a black law for those who are still involved in stealing,” the chairman stressed.

He said that he has always welcomed criticism, but it should be logical and conceivable. The NAB chairman warned that the accountability watchdog would act against those taking part in corruption. “If there wasn’t corruption, Pakistan would not need to take loans.”

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Justice (Retd) Iqbal further said there was no person who could dictate NAB, adding there was propaganda being done against the bureau. “The time when corruption was overlooked has passed,” the NAB chairman warned. “If anyone commits corruption, then he/she will have to confront NAB.”

Experts believe that the government should not abolish NAB, but rather thoroughly reform it in order to make it effective and in line with the basic values as prescribed in the Constitution of Pakistan.

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