Corruption and plea bargain

840
Naveed Aman Khan

NAB’s initial euphoria was indescribable when it caught Mushtaq Raisani the top bureaucrat of Balochistan in the act of filling his coffers with public money. But, lately, its display of startling complacence toward the probable outcome of the case is deplorable. Predictably, when it comes to dealing with those who openly plunder and make off with public resources, compromises and concessions remain the guiding principle. It was the most blatant misappropriation and abuse of taxpayers’ funds ever brought to light by the Bureau. Ironically, the accused happened to be the Finance Secretary of Balochistan, an economically beleaguered province of Pakistan. Given the scale and scope of embezzlement, the NAB Chairman should have gone the extra mile instead of accepting a plea bargain. Such controversial and unpopular laws as the plea bargain which condone the fraud must be done away with at once. In order to empower the accountability body, it is imperative to strengthen its legal regime against the increasingly changing modalities and methods of perpetration.

A strong legal framework, followed by effective law enforcement, is vital to ensure that the corrupt are punished. Corruption is a man-made disaster which has ransacked the very socio-economic infrastructure of our society. Any dilatory and anemic response of state accountability mechanism to the challenge will dissolve the hopes for Pakistan’s recovery. Corruption has been ruining the country for decades, but the NAB’s plea bargain in the case of former Balochistan Finance Secretary Mushtaque Raisani remained condemnable. Accountability institutions should not weaken the hope of the public. Although accountability is the foremost pillar of democracy, it should not be weakened and destroyed in the name of plea bargain with the corrupt. Offering a plea bargain means promoting corruption. It leads to mega corruption. Simple. The need of the hour is that NAB and other anti-corruption organisations must try to restore corruption-free culture in the country. They should convey the message of zero tolerance against corruption. They must set an exemplary accountability process that strengthens state institutions to carry a lesson for others. NAB must refrain from the plea bargain system. If it is not possible, it should at least replace their slogan with this new one: ‘Say yes to corruption with a plea bargain’.
Mushtaq Raisani facing Rs.40 bn corruption charge was cleared. The National Accountability Bureau has disputed the figure of his corruption. In a decision expected to raise eyebrows among opposition parties as well as legal circles about the effectiveness of the National Accountability Bureau, a top government functionary facing serious allegations of corruption was cleared by NAB, paving the way for his release from custody. Mushtaq Ahmed Raisani, hit the headlines when NAB seized over Rs 730 million hard cash from his residence in Quetta hours after he was taken into custody. As the drama involving the recovery of such a large amount began to unfold, the finance man was also found to be owning as many as a dozen houses in Karachi, whose estimated value was said to be around Rs 2 billion.

With the suspect caught keeping millions in illegal money and owning property obtained beyond his known sources of income, it appeared to be an open-and-shut case ending with his conviction until NAB’s decision. The Executive Board meeting of NAB, which itself had put Raisani’s corruption figure at Rs.40bn, accepted his plea bargain request for Rs.2bn. It was the biggest-ever plea bargain deal struck by NAB. Raisani was fully cleared after the deal is approved by the accountability court. However, he would not be able to seek any government job or a bank loan for next 10 years. NAB has already recovered over Rs.1 billion cash from the accused which was in addition to confiscation of his 12 houses. More than anything else, NAB’s decision may be questioned for going against its own practice. Usually, NAB strikes plea bargain deals to recover the looted or misappropriated amount. Raisani’s case reflects otherwise.

A request of voluntary return was made during the inquiry stage while the plea bargain application was moved after filing of a reference under Section 25(A) and (B) of the NAB Ordinance, respectively. It was of the view that the apex court’s suo motu notice covered both voluntary return and plea bargain deals. Legally the NAB Chairman can exercise his authority since the Supreme Court had not issued any interim restraining order to this effect. The EBM also took other significant decisions, including the approval of two more references against former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in the Rental Power Project case. Raja Ashraf has already had eight references filed against him in the accountability court by NAB. The corrupt and convicted are wrongly being given another lifeline which is completely unjustified. It will encourage and enhance corruption in the country. Those held guilty and declared convicted should not be allowed to continue. Such convicted government officers should not be allowed to rejoin at all and be made precedent for others.
—The writer is book ambassador, columnist, political analyst and author of several books based in Islamabad.