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Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was granted bail by the Islamabad High Court in a corruption case on Tuesday. Image Credit:

Islamabad: Two senior leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal — were granted post-arrest bail on Tuesday by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against surety bonds of Rs10 million (Dh511,313) each.

The decision made by a two-member bench of the Islamabad High Court, headed by Chief Justice Athar Minallah, is being seen as a major setback for Pakistan’s anti-graft agency National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s anti-corruption drive.

The NAB had filed corruption references against the two claiming that both had caused losses worth millions of rupees to the national exchequer and was confident they would be convicted in the cases against them.

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In the Ahsan Iqbal case, the court asked why he was behind bars when the investigation had been completed.

During the hearing, however, the Islamabad High Court raised serious questions on the performance and working protocol of the NAB, observing that sometimes it does not arrest an accused even after filing reference. In other cases, it said, the NAB arrests the accused even at the inquiry stage. An accused is deemed to be innocent unless proven guilty, said the judge.

While hearing the bail petitions, the court also questioned the NAB’s right of arrest and investigation. “Your right to arrest cannot deprive a citizen of his/her constitutional right,” said the court, adding there was no need to arrest a person accused of corruption while he is cooperating during the investigation. “If you have completed your investigation then there is no need to keep them in the lock-up,” said the court.

The chief justice also observed that a person cannot be arrested on the basis of an administrative mistake. If we keep arresting people on the basis of administrative misjudgement then the entire system of governance would collapse, he said.

In the Ahsan Iqbal hearing, Additional Prosecutor General Nab opposed the bail saying the accused misused authority in Narowal Sports City Complex and caused a loss of millions of rupees. The Chief Justice inquired if the accused did so for his personal gain. “How could you arrest a person at inquiry stage and why are you keeping him behind bars after investigation is completed,” asked the judge.

In Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s LNG reference, NAB prosecutor said Abbasi misused authority in LNG terminal construction and didn’t involve Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) in the project.

The court, however, remarked that in the entire project, no public fund was utilised. Then how could NAB file reference on misuse of public funds or authority?

Later, the court granted bail to both the accused.