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ISLAMABAD: The departure of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Zulfiqar Hussain Bukhari aka Zulfi Bukhari to Saudi Arabia on Monday was a shocking development for the National Accountability Bureau as the anti-corruption watchdog was not informed why an accused on the Exit Control List (ECL) was allowed to leave the country.

Sources told Dawn on Tuesday that NAB was taking the issue seriously and was looking to respond to the matter.

NAB was also surprised whether the interior ministry had referred the case of Zulfi Bukhari to a special committee of the ministry which decided the cases of ECL.

Controversy erupts over Imran’s visit to Saudi Arabia in chartered aircraft

According to a letter issued by the interior ministry, one-time “permission” was given to Mr Bukhari for six days for performing Umra.

The letter sent to the director general of immigration and passports said: “It has been decided to grant one-time permission to Mr Syed Zulfiqar Hussain Bukhari son of Syed Wajid Hussain Bukhari [...] for a period of six days. The DG immigration and passports is requested to take further necessary action accordingly under intimation to this ministry and FIA.”

On Monday, a special flight to Madina — in which PTI chairman Imran Khan, his wife Bushra, PTI’s another leader Aleem Khan and his wife and Zulfiqar Bukhari were travelling — was delayed by an hour because Mr Bukhari’s name was on the ECL, and he was not initially allowed to travel by the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) and immigration staff at Benazir Bhutto International Airport, which has recently been closed down after new Islamabad International Airport became functional.

Later the flight was allowed to leave with Mr Bukhari on board.

Interestingly, PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry condemned FIA’s action and said: “The incident was all due to a misunderstanding by the FIA immigration staff as they had confused Mr Bukhari with someone on the ECL with a similar name.”

He said Zulfiqar Bukhari was not a Pakistani citizen and had nothing to do with local laws.

But the FIA director told Dawn that Zulfiqar Bukhari was in fact on the ECL and that he was allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia when he sought permission from the interior ministry for travelling for “one time”.

Sources in NAB said Mr Bukhari was accused of owning an offshore company and having assets beyond his known sources of income.

They said following directions of the Supreme Court to take action against all those who owned offshore firms, NAB had served three notices to Mr Bukhari to appear before it.

“However, Mr Bukhari ignored the notices and did not appear before NAB,” they added.

The sources said if Mr Bukhari did not return to the country and escaped from NAB the bureau would take necessary action and would tell the Supreme Court that he was allowed to leave for Saudi Arabia by the interior ministry.

NAB is also considering issuing arrest warrant for Mr Bukhari as the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, empowers it to do so if the accused does not appear before it after receiving three notices.

The sources said under the law if the interior ministry wanted to remove anyone from the ECL it had to consult the relevant organisation under whose application the accused had been placed on the ECL.

They said an inquiry against Mr Zulfi was under way and it would be mentioned in the inquiry that he had been permitted to leave by the interior ministry without prior intimation to NAB.

Chartered flight costs Rs10 million

Mr Khan went to Saudi Arabia in a chartered aircraft that cost Rs800,000 per hour, according to Geo News.

The PTI chief chartered a 10-seater aircraft, Challenger 604, of private aviation firm Princely Jet. The plane first flew to Lahore from Islamabad to bring Mr Khan’s family to Islamabad.

Quoting Civil Aviation sources, the channel said that the total duration of Mr Khan’s flight was 13 hours with an estimated expense of around Rs10 million. The expenses include the fare of the aircraft as well as fuel charges, etc.

However, in a talk-show on ARY News, PTI leader Faisal Vawda claimed that the jet was chartered by the party for the entire election campaign.

His remarks irked PTI supporters who took to social media and tweeted against Mr Vawda whose statement they believed went against the PTI chairman.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2018