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ISLAMABAD: Former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan spilled the beans on Wednesday, disclosing that the name of Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) former chief executive Bernd Hildenbrand had been struck off the Exit Control List (ECL) on the direct intervention from the Prime Minister Office.

In a statement released by his spokesman, Chaudhry Nisar rejected the claim made by an interior ministry official that the ex-minister had removed the name of Mr Hildenbrand who is responsible for the unauthorised sale of a PIA plane to a museum in Germany.

“To the contrary, the interior minister was not in favour of allowing PIA’s former CEO to leave the country without being held accountable for his alleged corruption. It was only on the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office that permission was granted to Mr Hildenbrand,” the spokesman said.

He explained that the German ambassador had contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and given them an assurance that Mr Hildenbrand would return to the country after a month.

“It was in the context of recommendations from the Foreign Office that the secretary to the prime minister personally met then interior minister Chaudhry Nisar and conveyed the directions of the prime minister to allow Mr Hildenbrand to proceed abroad for one month,” he said.

The controversy over the missing PIA Airbus had been echoing in both houses of parliament, but nobody conceded that the plane had already been sold to a German museum.

A senior PIA official said that the plane had been chartered by a British company for the purpose of a film which was to be shot in Malta following which the aircraft was taken to Germany.

He added that the film company paid PIA over $200,000 as rent for the plane and the Airbus was flown directly to the Leipzig Halle Airport Museum in Germany.

Both the plane and the former CEO are currently in Germany. Until recently, Mr Hildenbrand’s exit was a mystery, especially since the former CEO was facing corruption charges.

A source privy to the development said that the German CEO had not only floated a tender to sell the aircraft but also hired a foreign consultant — who also held shares in the museum that was interested in purchasing the plane. He said Mr Hildenbrand had secretly negotiated the sale of the aircraft with the museum, without seeking permission from the PIA board.

An internal PIA inquiry has found three of its top officials guilty of gross violations in the matter. In December last year, the PIA board of directors formed a two-member inquiry committee that found Mr Hildenbrand, director of procurement and logistics retired Air Commodore Imran Akhtar, who is brother of former three-star general Rizwan Akhtar, and technical consultant Helmut Bachhofner guilty of causing a financial loss of over Rs500 million to the national flag carrier.

The committee’s report found that the entire sale process was based on mala fide intentions, as the original tendering process was tampered with to ensure that a single bidder was chosen. The 34-page report said that the price at which the perfectly functioning A-310 had been sold was lower even than its scrap price.

“A channel was designed by the persons responsible for the actions under inquiry to phase out A-310 aircraft at present and other assets at a later stage. The entire team involved could not have achieved this objective without connivance of each other and planting of Mr Helmut [Bachhofner],” the report said.

The consultant, the commission’s findings revealed, was a shareholder and partner in the only two companies that participated in the bidding. The committee also found it odd that although A-310 had been handed over to the German company, there was no payment made against it.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2018