ARY Gold case accused speaks out in anger
By Javed Talat, The News, March 6, 2008
TORONTO, Canada: I was nursing my jetlag when in a voice struck with panic I was woken up by my wife. That early March 1998 I woke up to the realities of Pakistani politics in a personal way. The newspaper said a case (later came to be known as The ARY Gold case) had been filed in the High Court against me in which the former, and now late, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her spouse Asif Ali Zardari were the principal accused. My wife was looking for an answer. I did not know what had hit me.
After running from pillar to post I found that the allegation was that I had helped the former prime minister and her spouse make illicit money, by submitting a case to the Cabinet, which the Cabinet had approved, recommending the lowering of customs duty on the import of gold in order to prevent smuggling.
I had a few months earlier opted to retire and was happy that my 38 years of public service had come to an honourable end. This satisfaction was rudely shaken. The then prime minister’s family had known me ever since 1976. I sought intercession. His brother in Lahore tried his best to help. But he could not move the heavy weight of the then chief of what later came to be known as the NAB (National Accountability Bureau).
While I prepared myself to fight this calumny with the moral support of friends and colleagues, my wife and children were devastated. But my immediate worry was to find a competent lawyer. I was introduced to one of the best known names from Karachi, who had held high offices in government, but, after days of prevarication and without looking at my papers, he regretted he could not plead my case as he feared backlash from the powerful head of the Accountability Cell. I felt helpless, lost my sleep and was put on blood pressure medication.
While some relief came to me when the invincible Abdul Hafeez Pirzada told me that he would take my case, and I got busy preparing my defence, day after day the sorrow in my wife’s face and the lament and agony in the voices of my children, living at great distance from Pakistan, would gnaw at my being. They had not expected this Zillat (degradation) and I had never dreamt that I would be the cause of such torment to them.
But I buckled up and stood tall. I would go to the court in Rawalpindi on every hearing, sit with the other accused and watch the proceedings meander. Then came the threats. I had been cited as prosecution witness No 1 against Benazir Bhutto and her spouse in another case which came to be known as SGS/Cotecna case. It looked funny. I was told by the NAB chaps to give incriminating statement against the principal accused and as a quid pro quo I would not only be taken off the hook but also rewarded with the position of Governor State Bank of Pakistan. The threats were scary. I was to be arrested and what not. In panic I left my home and went in hiding with friends, first in Karachi and later in Islamabad. But that was no help and I came back home as my health was fast deteriorating.
As days passed and the picture of the court-room became clearer, I started understanding the meaning of “pressure on judges” and “telephone calls”. I carried myself with self-respect and confidence and worked day in and day out in my lawyer’s chamber who produced reams of paper outlining my defence and questions for cross-examination of prosecution witnesses. I was waiting for justice. But the ARY case just would not move.
On the other hand, the SGS/Cotecna case in the adjoining court-room was moving rapidly. The buzz in the bar-room was how judges were being manipulated. (Much later I heard those tapes which brought to public light the manner in which we in Pakistan had treated our judiciary). Paula Newberg had written at length in “Judging the State” how laws and courts had been used by the establishment for decades since independence.
Reflection made me realise that the effect of dictatorship was not only that they destroyed institutions but, more pathetic, they destroyed human will and values too. Those were days of raids on the Supreme Court building under a civilian ruler, those were the days of threats not only to the Prosecution Witness No 1 but also to those who were to write judgments. “No one is going to value the fact that smuggling of gold had stopped and customs revenue had skyrocketed,” sympathised one of the lawyers from the other side. “They will convict you because they are hell-bent on convicting Benazir”.
My hope by now had dwindled. I was not prepared to become a sacrificial lamb. I chose self-exile, hoping that a day would come when the courts would deliver justice rather than judgments. That hope was rekindled when the ousted Chief Justice was restored. I rejoiced not only at his reinstatement but also at the reinstatement of faith. I thought I will go back to Pakistan and have my name cleared from an independent judiciary.
But then that hope and the judiciary were snuffed away by another dictator. After the elections I started dreaming again of returning to Pakistan, of using those reams of paper containing my defence, of getting justice, of acquittal. I read this morning the news of withdrawal of the ARY case. That longing has again been shattered. Now there will be no vindication. I am angry.
(The writer was Federal Secretary of Finance when ARY case was registered.)