LAHORE, July 24: The Federal Investigation Agency arrested on Tuesday eight officials of the passport office and the National Database and Registration Authority and three travel agents in connection with the UK visa scam.
The FIA had also taken into custody six women employees (data entry operators at the Bhagbanpura office) of Nadra, but released them on a personal guarantee of their head, Col (retd) Ahmad Khatak. But they will again appear before the FIA investigation team on Wednesday.
“The Nadra Lahore officials, including the six women data entry operators, will remain part of the investigation,” a senior FIA official told Dawn.
“We have arrested eight officials of the Garden Town passport office and Nadra and three travel agents,” said the official who is part of investigation team.
He said the team had not succeeded in arresting Abid Chaudhry, a central character in the scam; Malik Bashir, the owner of the Dream Land travel agency; and an assistant director of the Garden Town passport office.
“The FIA passport cell has registered an FIR against unknown persons on the report of the UK tabloid, The Sun. The Sun is a complainant in the case,” the official said, adding that so far nothing had been established against anyone.
“We are picking up the officials allegedly involved in the process of issuing a computerised national identity card (CNIC) and a passport to the person engaged by The Sun. More arrests are expected from Islamabad passport and Nadra offices,” he said.
He said: “After a thorough investigation it will be established who helped The Sun man to get a CNIC and a passport issued after tampering with the record. We are surprised that the fake security features of the CNIC and passport in question could not be detected at any level, suggesting that there was some collaboration among the officials,” the FIA official said.
The FIA had also taken Deputy Director of the Punjab Passport Office Iqbal Shahid into custody but, after recording his statement, allowed him to go home.
“I have no link with the issuance of the passport in a fake name. I have asked the FIA team to take all those into custody who are involved in the process. Being in charge of 32 passport offices in Punjab, I had also conducted an inquiry into the matter which revealed that tampering had been committed at the Nadra’s end and the passport office had issued the passport in question based on the CNIC,” Mr Shahid told Dawn.
Tuesday was a tough day for local agents outside the two passport offices in the city. Minutes after the FIA team’s arrival at the Garden Town office the agents disappeared. The public faced problems because work remained suspended for some time.
The Sun’s Monday edition report revolved around an undercover investigator and a network of Pakistani agents – Malik Bashir and company known for sending people abroad on forged documents – with alleged links to the passport and identity card offices.
The paper said the officials first provided its undercover investigator with a genuine Pakistani passport in a false name. The information was backed by a footage of Abid Chaudhry (Dream Land’s travel agent) claiming how for around £7,000 he could get its man a two-month visa… and smuggle him into London 2012 as part of Pakistan’s Olympic squad.
Abid Chaudhry has gone into hiding and his family claims that he is ‘innocent’ and he will move court to seek a pre-arrest bail.