The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Thursday postponed the appearance of PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz before the watchdog on March 26 (tomorrow), citing the threat of Covid-19 and “public interest”.
NAB had summoned Maryam on Friday as part of two probes — a money laundering investigation in connection with the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case, and another related to 148 kanals of land that she allegedly purchased in Lahore illegally.
A day before her appearance that was expected to turn into a political power show for the PML-N, a high-level NAB meeting was held to review the situation and the recent instructions issued by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) in view of the ongoing third coronavirus wave in the country.
“The meeting was informed that the NCOC has placed a complete ban on the gathering of all sorts of crowds,” a press release issued by NAB Lahore said.
It recalled that at Maryam’s last appearance before the bureau, the NAB Lahore building had been subjected to “deliberate intense stone-pelting”, which was akin to “creating an obstacle” in the NAB investigation.
Persons involved in such acts could be jailed for up to 10 years under accountability laws but “despite these legal powers, NAB has so far shown extreme patience and restraint so far”, the statement said.
It noted that Maryam had been issued notices to appear before NAB investigation teams for a second time on March 26.
“However, considering the NCOC recommendations, and in view of public interest, NAB has taken the principled decision that accused Maryam Nawaz’s appearance in NAB Lahore tomorrow has been postponed,” read the statement, adding that a new date for her appearance would be announced at “an appropriate time”.
The meeting also decided to direct the NAB administration to reverse all security measures that were being taken in preparation for the appearance, according to the handout.
The statement stressed that “NAB strictly opposes any measures in which various tactics are used to allegedly bring a national institution under any pressure.”
Following the PML-N’s decision to gather maximum party leaders and workers outside the NAB provincial headquarters on March 26, the bureau had sought “foolproof security” from the government, asking it to deploy Rangers and police personnel.
NAB had said its Lahore office might “come under attack” from political workers and others on the occasion of Maryam’s appearance.
On the bureau’s request, NAB Punjab headquarters and surroundings had also been declared a red zone.
NAB had summoned Maryam in August last year, but clashes between PML-N workers and police broke out outside its Lahore office upon her arrival to record a statement in the land acquisition case.
All PML-N lawmakers in the national and Punjab assemblies had been directed by the party leadership to accompany Maryam on her appearance. The party’s Lahore chapter had also been asked to mobilise the maximum number of workers to make it a “big political power show”, Dawn reported.
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who is also the president of opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), had also announced that workers of his party would reach the NAB office on Friday.
‘Institution of political engineering’
Speaking to reporters in Lahore soon after the bureau’s announcement, Maryam reiterated that she would “not become an easy prey for NAB”.
“Whatever oppression and victimisation and revenge NAB was going to take has been done. It is time for atrocities to be ended,” she remarked.
She strongly criticised the anti-graft watchdog, terming it an “institution of political engineering that comes to the aid of [Prime Minister] Imran Khan whenever he needs help”.
“If [he] wants to silence an opponent or cannot fight an opponent on political grounds and his political opponent needs to be put in jail for six months, then NAB is used,” she alleged.
Maryam claimed that PML-N leaders had “always followed the law” and had “exposed” NAB by doing so.
Referring to her past arrest, Maryam questioned what additional details NAB needed when it had already held her for 48 days.
“What need do you have to reopen the same case after 1.5 years and send a notice to Maryam Nawaz on the date when the long march was scheduled?” she asked.
Talking about NAB’s petition for cancellation of her bail in the Lahore High Court (LHC), Maryam said “if there was even a grain of truth or some merit in your allegations”, then the body would not have had to resort to “political allegations”.
The PML-N leader asked “NAB and the face behind it — Imran Khan — to not use the threat of NAB” against her, her father Nawaz Sharif or the party, saying they did “not fear NAB, your jails or your revenge”.
“It is time for accountability and God willing, the people of Pakistan will get accountability from NAB […] and vote chors (vote thieves).”
She also criticised Prime Minister Imran who was photographed earlier in the day holding a meeting with his media team for “violating SOPs”.
The premier had tested positive for Covid-19 last week.
Maryam said the prime minister was “violating SOPs in front of the entire nation and his pictures were being circulated and there should be a crackdown there first”.
She said this in response to a question about NAB citing the growing coronavirus cases for the postponement of her appearance.