ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: The ‘UK visa scam’ which has engulfed the country over a couple of days, triggering large-scale arrests of Nadra and passport officials allegedly involved in issuing fake identity cards and passports, has proved to be fake, the government says.
The federal cabinet was informed on Wednesday that a British national of Pakistan origin who also had Pakistani nationality, Mohammad Ali Asad, had joined hands with the London tabloid, The Sun, to engineer the fake scam against Pakistan.
“The government has taken serious notice of the ‘knee-jerk’ reaction of some departments over the story carried in the newspaper which has a bad reputation, without determining the facts,” Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told media personnel after the cabinet meeting.
After receiving briefings from the law ministry, the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and the passport office, the government has decided to file a defamation suit against the newspaper for bringing disrepute to the country, he said.
“The prime minister has asked the law ministry and other departments concerned to file the suit as soon as possible.”
Replying to a question, he said: “Yes, a wrong has been committed by making arrests, including those of women staff members of the Nadra office in Lahore, without prior investigation, and the prime minister has ordered special measures so that such incidents don’t take place in future.”
After the publication on July 23 of the report headlined ‘Olympic terror visa racket’, the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Interior Affairs Rehman Malik had ordered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to get hold of officials mentioned in it.
Mr Malik, known for jumping to conclusions, constituted a joint investigation team comprising officials of the FIA, Intelligence Bureau and Inter-Services Intelligence to investigate the scam.
Based on a sting operation, the newspaper report detailed how a racket involving Nadra and passport officials and private travel agents managed to smuggle people to London in the garb of players and supporting staff for participating in the Olympic games.
At the press briefing, Nadra Chairman Tariq Malik said the authority had recently beaten some British firms in international bidding for a $166 million contract in Kenya and “the story appears to have been crafted to defame Pakistan against this background”.
He said Nadra had conducted a thorough investigation into the report and found it unfounded and baseless.
He said there had been no fraud or illegal activity in the issuance of the identity card and passport of Mohammad Ali Asad, son of Mohammad Anwer Siddique. Documentary and video evidence proved that the man was himself there to get his expired computerised national identity card renewed.
According to Nadra’s database, Mohammad Ali Asad got his first national identity card (number 35202-2660630-5) on Feb 6, 2002. He later immigrated to the United Kingdom and has been living there for eight to 10 years. His UK passport (number 506486804) was issued on Oct 24 last year and it carries the same name and photograph as in Nadra’s record, but a different date of birth, which he apparently got changed to secure British nationality.
According to Mr Malik, after having been picked by The Sun for the undercover assignment, Mohammad Ali Asad travelled to Pakistan on July 8. He stayed at the Avari Hotel in Lahore from July 8 to July 31 at a cost of Rs18,000 per day. He went to the Nadra office in Baghbanpura on July 10 to get his photograph updated against his own CNIC rather than getting someone else’s identity as claimed by the newspaper.
His CNIC was updated after matching it with his previous record in the database. After getting his CNIC modified, he went through the process for getting a machine-readable passport (MRP) on July 13 and it was delivered to him on July 18.
“Since the same person applied to renew his own ID card and for provision of a passport, nothing illegal was done,” Mr Malik said.
He termed the story “a despicable attempt to undermine the strength of Pakistan’s CNIC and passport issuance systems and make the citizens lose faith in critical and sensitive operations of the country”.
Meanwhile, the FIA released four officials of the passport office and Nadra and three travel agents for want of evidence against them. However, it obtained physical remand of four other officials.
It presented Asif, Wasif, Mukhtar and Fahim -- officials of Nadra and the passport office -- before a special magistrate for their alleged role in the reported scam and obtained their three-day physical remand.
The interior ministry’s special investigation team headed by FIA’s Additional Director General Chaudhry Tanvir is in Lahore and is yet to complete its findings.
Replying to a question, Chaudhry Tanvir said: “We buy the stance of Nadra but we will have to look into all aspects related to the travel agency, The Sun’s team and all those who were part of this alleged scam.”
When asked whether the FIA would arrest Asad for defaming the country, he said: “We are also investigating this aspect and probably will go after him as well.”
The FIA also arrested a suspected human smuggler, Saba Naz alias Madam Babari, for giving an ad for sending people to the UK during the Olympics.