A Peshawar High Court bench on Tuesday restrained the Ehtesab Commission (EC) from arresting and harassing former K-P minister Senator Sitara Ayaz. It also sought replies from the commission and National Accountability Bureau in this case by October 28.
Justices Irshad Qaiser and Syed Afsar Shah took up a writ petition filed by Ayaz, through her lawyers Barrister Mudassir Amir and Abdul Latif Afridi. Ayaz was a social welfare minister in the Awami National Party government. The petitioner’s lawyers informed the bench they learnt through media reports that the commission had issued arrest warrants for Ayaz. Amir argued that his client was yet to receive any warrant in writing.
“EC has charged Ayaz of embezzling funds for various projects and misusing her authority when she was provincial minister for social welfare,” Amir told the court.
He argued the commission issued an arrest warrant in a case NAB had been investigating since 2013. The counsel said the same person cannot be harassed for the same offence twice. Amir added this was in violation of Article 13 of the Constitution and Section 403 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. He said EC’s enquiry against Ayaz in 2015 hinged on malice and ulterior motives.
“A notification on the establishment of the EC was issued on September 14, 2015 and all enquiries conducted by it should be considered illegal,” he informed the bench. “The commission should exercise its power after the appointment of a director general,” he said. Amir added NAB had not pursued the enquiry which can lead one to the safe assumption that nothing was wrong with the completed projects.
Amir said Ayaz was cooperating with the enquiry so there was no need to issue arrest warrants. He contended there was no woman interrogator with the commission so the arrest warrant should be declared void.
He requested the court to stop the EC from arresting and harassing his client, her relatives and family members and grant interim relief.
The commission’s prosecutor Lajbar Khan told the bench the former minister was being investigated in a different enquiry from the one being conducted by NAB. “She is charged for misusing her authority and misappropriating Social Welfare department funds,” he said. NAB’s Additional Prosecutor General Umer Farooq assured the bench complete information about the bureau’s enquiry would be provided.
The bench adjourned the case till October 28 and sought replies from both accountability departments.
Ayaz lashes out
Speaking at a news conference at Peshawar Press Club after the hearing, Ayaz expressed anger over the EC arrest warrant. She said NAB also refrained from pursuing the investigation after it failed to get evidence.
She said EC or the “Imran and Pervez Commission” was formed to disgrace political opponents. Ayaz added she was ready to face an enquiry; “ANP always supports elimination of corruption but the process should be above board and impartial”. She accused EC of harassing her and her family.
“Imran Khan should start his countdown by issuing my arrest warrant,” said Ayaz, adding she will pursue the case till its logical end.
She shared Rs1.29 billion was the total budget of the welfare department, questioning how she could misappropriate Rs1 billion. “What kind of accountability is this in which no evidence has been provided?”
Before getting relief from the court, the senator had taken refuge in the parliament lodges to avoid arrest. As per the capital city’s police chief, laws do not allow the arrest of a lawmaker from the lodges.
PTI Senator Nauman Wazir said Senate rules do not bar the police from arresting anyone involved in criminal cases. He said permission was not necessary, however, the police is meant to inform the Senate chairperson if they are making an arrest.
Islamabad police refused to arrest Ayaz without permission from Senate Chairperson Raza Rabbani who is in Geneva. A letter has been sent to his office.
PTI Chairperson Imran Khan regretted the federal government’s “deliberate attempts” to impede EC. Imran said having a strong independent accountability body was a key commitment of the PTI government.
“We are determined to counter efforts to prevent us from arresting politicians or leaders.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2015.