ISLAMABAD: As the incumbent prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), K.K. Agha, is set to step down next month, the race to replace him is heating up.

The prosecutor general’s position is a key one within the legal hierarchy, as it is within the remit of the office holder to initiate or bury corruption proceedings against politicians and key individuals.

Agha, a Karachi-based lawyer, was serving as an additional attorney general from February, 2010 when he was appointed NAB prosecutor general by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in November of 2011.

Also read: References against Sharifs buried as NAB didn’t appeal

Those close to him suggest that Mr Agha favours Barrister Tariq Mehmood Khokhar, a former additional attorney general, as his successor. However, Mr Agha’s subordinate, NAB Additional Prosecutor General Akbar Tarrar, and advocate Qamar Afzal are also vying for the same position.

Prosecutor general has power to withdraw corruption cases
Barrister Khokhar was the additional attorney general in the Supreme Court up until last year, where he was dealing with the missing persons’ cases. He was then posted to the Islamabad High Court (IHC), where he worked until September of this year. He was appointed during the tenure of former attorney general Munir A. Malik, after the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took power. When approached, Khokhar declined to comment on the speculation around the appointment of a new NAB prosecutor general.

Mr Tarrar, on the other hand, has been involved with nearly all key corruption cases that have come before the bureau of late, including high profile cases involving influential figures who were acquitted during the PPP’s tenure, as well as under the current PML-N regime.

Mr Tarrar was supervising the prosecution in the SGS, Cotecna, ARY, polo ground and Ursus tractors corruption references against former president Asif Ali Zardari and other senior members of the PPP. After the co-accused in these cases were acquitted by accountability courts in 2011 and 2012, the prosecution did not file an appeal in the high courts. Hence the orders of accountability courts attained finality.

After the end of his term in office, when NAB re-opened references against Mr Zardari, the former president cited the exoneration of his co-accused. So far, Mr Zardari has been acquitted in the polo ground reference.

Likewise, Mr Tarrar was also supervising the Hudaibia Paper Mills, Raiwind assets and Ittefaq foundries cases, all three of which involve Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and members of the Sharif family.

An accountability court in Rawalpindi recently cleared the Sharifs in the Hudaibia and Raiwind references, while the Ittefaq Foundries matter is being settled ‘out of court’.

Sources told Dawn that Mr Tarrar enjoys good relations with both parties – the PPP and PML-N – and therefore they are likely to ask NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry to appoint him as prosecutor general.

However, Mr Tarrar told Dawn that his name “does not suit anyone, therefore, he could not be appointed prosecutor general following Mr Agha’s retirement.”

The third possible contender, Advocate Afzal, represented NAB chief Qamar Zaman Chaudhry in matter of the petition filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan against his appointment as NAB chairman.

In the petition, Mr Khan alleged that since the former federal secretary was not a retired person, therefore his name could not have been considered for this post. Mr Chaudhry had been appointed NAB chairman in October 2013 after the Supreme Court declared the appointment of retired Admiral Fasih Bokhari illegal.

In April of this year, the apex court dismissed the PTI’s petition against Mr Chaudhry’s appointment.

Advocate Afzal, when approached, confirmed that his name was being considered for the position of prosecutor general but said that he was not actively lobbying for the appointment.

Sources, meanwhile, claimed that the attorney general’s office also wishes to have a ‘confidante’ in the office of prosecutor general. Sources said that Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt wanted to appoint one of the additional attorney generals – Waqar Rana or Khawaja Saeeduz Zafar – as NAB’s prosecutors general.

Under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) of 1999, the NAB prosecutor general has the power to withdraw references against anyone at any stage of the trial. The NAO empowers the NAB chairman to approve the reference for filing in the accountability courts but it is the prerogative of the prosecutor general to withdraw the reference.

According to officials privy to this procedure, under section 31-B of NAO, the prosecution withdraws the references in cases where it is difficult to prove the allegations against the accused. The officials, however, said that in recent cases, the prosecutor general’s office has withdrawn corruption references against former interior minister Rehman Malik and property tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain under the section.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2014