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PIA’s former director procurement and logistics and retired Air Commodore Imran Akhtar.
PIA’s former director procurement and logistics and retired Air Commodore Imran Akhtar.

ISLAMABAD: The Senate subcommittee on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which is probing the circumstances under which Airbus A310 was sold to a German firm in violation of rules, was informed on Tuesday that the name of PIA’s former CEO, a German national, had been removed from the Exit Control List (ECL) on the specific order of then interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in response to a letter from the Foreign Office.

The subcommittee headed by Farhatullah Babar of the Pakistan Peoples Party met in the office of the secretary of the Civil Aviation Division at the PIA complex in Islamabad. Nauman Wazir of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Tahir Hussain Mashhadi of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement are members of the subcommittee.

The civil aviation secretary and officials of the PIA, ministries of interior and defence and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) briefed the subcommittee about the sale of the aircraft last year.

Four Airbus A310 planes were grounded in 2016 after completing flying hours in 27 years. One of them was used in a film shot in Malta before being sold to a museum in Germany.

Parliamentary subcommittee briefed about the sale of Airbus A310 to a museum in Germany

The meeting was also informed that under the directives of the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly, the case had since been referred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for inquiry. The FIA has also taken notice of the matter and launched its own investigations.

Civil Aviation Secretary retired Squadron Leader Ifran Elahi said that the sale of Airbus A310 had been stopped and that it was still the property of the government of Pakistan. He, however, said that negotiations for not charging the parking fee for the aircraft were still going on.

The subcommittee members were surprised at the glaring flaws in the tendering process as neither the director procurement nor the PIA managing director had the authority to finalise the sale and move the aircraft outside the country.

The meeting noted that when former PIA CEO Bernd Hildenbrand failed to return to Pakistan and after the expiry of one-month period, the interior ministry wrote to the Foreign Office to take up the matter with the German embassy in Islamabad on whose guarantee and commitment the permission had been granted.

“We will demand of the Foreign Office to produce the written commitment/guarantee given by the German embassy and ask whether and when it took up the matter with the German embassy in Islamabad and what the response of the embassy was,” Mr Babar said.

“We must not let the former CEO escape from answering some searching questions about the attempted sale of the aircraft,” he said.

“If someone gave guarantee on his behalf, the guarantor must be held accountable and if there was no such guarantee then the officials responsible for allowing the ex-CEO to leave the country must be held accountable,” he added.

The subcommittee was also informed that a fact-finding committee of the PIA found numerous inconsistencies in the sale of the aircraft to a museum in Leipzig, Germany. The subcommittee found former PIA MD Procurement Imran Akhtar responsible for the sale of A310, causing losses to the organisation.

However, Imran Akhtar, who is the brother of former three-star general Rizwan Akhtar, defended his actions, stating that there were no mal-intensions behind the sale of Airbus to the German firm.

The subcommittee observed that Imran Akhtar was not given a chance to be heard.

Tahir Mashhadi objected to allowing a Jewish company to use the PIA aircraft to be filmed as a French airlines plane in what he called an anti-Palestine film, before the plane was flown to Germany.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2018