Pakistan's supreme court on Wednesday formed a bench to inquire into the "shocking" death of an officer who was probing corruption allegations against Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and other senior political figures.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry converted a note submitted by the supreme court registrar's office on the death of National Accountability Bureau official Kamran Faisal into a constitutional petition and said a two-judge bench would begin hearing the matter from Thursday.
The chief justice, who has relentlessly pursued corruption cases against the government, announced his decision while hearing a case over allegations of graft in the setting up of "rental power projects" during Ashraf's tenure as power minister.
He said Faisal's death will be looked into by the two-judge bench under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, which gives the apex court the jurisdiction to take up human rights issues.
Faisal, an assistant director of NAB, was found hanging from a fan in his room in a government hostel last Friday.
A preliminary autopsy report concluded he had committed suicide but his family has cast doubt on the findings, saying his body bore several injuries.
The government set up a judicial commission headed by a retired judge to investigate the death but Faisal's family and colleagues demanded an inquiry by a serving judge under the supervision of the SC.
The chief justice said the apex court would carry out its own inquiry because Faisal's family, his colleagues and the public were not confident that the government's probe would be free and fair. He described Faisal's death as "shocking".
During the hearing of the rental power projects case, a bench headed by Chaudhry rejected a request from NAB to put off the matter in view of Faisals death.
The bench pulled up NAB Prosecutor K K Agha after he told the court that he was not aware whether an FIR had been registered over Faisal's death.
The chief justice said it was not known whether Faisal was murdered or had committed suicide.
Under these circumstances, an impartial inquiry is necessary to bring those responsible to justice, he said. He remarked that on one side there were powerful accused and on the other, there was a dedicated investigator.
The bench noted that Faisal's colleagues had expressed their reservations about the government probe as senior political and government figures were involved in the scam.
The judges said it was the government's responsibility to protect investigators probing graft charges.
During the hearing, NAB chairman Fasih Bokhari retracted his statement that the probe into the rental power projects would be suspended till an inquiry into Faisal’s death was concluded.
Bokhari told the court that NAB's investigation into the scam would continue. The bench subsequently put off the rental power projects case till January 29.
The apex court had recently directed NAB to arrest Ashraf and other suspects in the rental power projects case. However, the NAB chairman informed the court that he did not have adequate evidence to make arrests.
Media reports have said that Faisal had told colleagues he was under pressure from his superiors and had asked to be taken off the investigation.
Faisal's brother-in-law Hamid Munir came to the SC on Wednesday morning to appeal to the chief justice to take notice of his mysterious death.
Munir said he was certain Faisal had not committed suicide. "He was not worried and he had no problems," he told reporters.
Nine Pakistani and foreign firms were accused of receiving over Rs 22 billion as advance payments for setting up rental power projects but most of them either did not set up plants or commissioned them after inordinate delays.
In March last year, the SC declared that the contracts for the power projects were not transparent and directed authorities to rescind them.