LAHORE: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government’s ‘reluctance’ to place the names of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members on the Exit Control List (ECL) could leave the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) with no choice but to move court against the government’s “unprecedented” stance.

Earlier this week, NAB requested the interior ministry to place the names of Mr Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired Capt Mohammad Safdar on the ECL, over suspicion that they may attempt to leave the country as their trial is nearing conclusion. The ministry had reportedly refused to entertain NAB’s request on the grounds that it would place the Sharif family members’ names on the ECL only on a court’s order.

The interior ministry had never, in the past, refused to entertain NAB’s requests to place the names of suspects on the ECL, said NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Khaliquz Zaman on Friday, adding: “Even in the case of Ishaq Dar (former finance minister), the interior ministry said that he was already out of the country and, therefore, there was no need to place his name on the ECL.”

Mr Zaman told Dawn that NAB might move the court against the interior ministry’s reluctance to place the names of suspects facing corruption references on the ECL. “We have never faced this situation before. Usually a suspect moves a court of law when his/her name is placed on the ECL, never the other way round. The reason behind this case is perhaps known to everyone,” Mr Zaman said.

Senior lawyer Asad Manzoor Butt told Dawn that the interior ministry could not put off a request made by a government investigation agency to place the name of a suspect on the ECL.

Advocate Butt added that NAB could move the court to take up the matter of the interior ministry’s refusal of its request.

Another NAB official said that the interior ministry had not yet formally replied to its request, perhaps because of the legal issue. “Legally, the government has weak grounds to refuse NAB’s request to place the names of the suspects (Nawaz Sharif, Maryam and Safdar) on the ECL as the trial against them (in corruption references) is nearing conclusion and they may flee the country,” he said.

However, Climate Change Minister and PML-N’s information secretary Senator Mushahidullah Khan said that the interior ministry would decide the matter in the light of the Constitution and law.

Minister of State for Interior Talal Chaudhry refused to respond to Dawn’s queries.

Disqualified premier Sharif and his family members are facing three corruption references in an accountability court — Avenfield properties, Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment. They are accused of money laundering, tax evasion and hiding their offshore assets.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2018