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ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Interior Minister Azam Khan on Thursday disclosed that Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza had personally put up a case to remove Zulfiqar Hussain Bukhari’s name from the blacklist and had approved it as well.

Mr Bukhari had on May 11 managed to leave for Saudi Arabia, with Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, even though his name had been placed on a blacklist, prohibiting him from leaving the country.

Separately, the Islamabad High Court asked the interior ministry on Thursday to explain the circumstances under which Mr Bukhari had been allowed to leave the country while his name was on the blacklist.

PPP wants caretaker interior minister fired for having a soft corner for PTI

Briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Interior on Thursday, Azam Khan said: “The interior secretary came to my office with a file and said that a person named Zulfi Bukhari wanted to leave, along with Imran Khan, to perform Umrah. However, he said that person was stopped at the airport because his name was on the blacklist. He also said that the person had filed an application to remove his name from the blacklist and had also submitted an affidavit that he would return after performing Umrah.”

Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza was a close associate of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and was promoted by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif after ignoring three consecutive adverse annual confidential reports (ACRs).

Mr Khan added: “I was told that the person had sought permission for one time. I examined the file and allowed him to leave for six days. However, I wrote on the file that he (Mr Bukhari) must return. No one, including Imran Khan, called me for the removal of his name from the blacklist.”

The caretaker interior minister said that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had requested Mr Bukhari’s name to be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) because he was being investigated in a case relating to offshore companies. However, he added, in the absence of a cabinet committee, the body authorised to place names on the ECL, Mr Bukhari’s name was placed on the blacklist to ensure that he wouldn’t leave the country.

NAB investigation

Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court directed interior ministry’s section officer Qalandar Khan, who deals with the ECL, to explain why Mr Bukhari’s name had been placed on the blacklist and not the ECL. The court also asked Mr Bukhari to cooperate with NAB in the inquiry into his offshore companies.

Later, Mr Bukhari told reporters that neither he nor Imran Khan had telephoned anyone in the interior ministry to remove his name from the blacklist. He said he would decide whether to join the NAB inquiry or not after consulting his lawyers in Pakistan and the United Kingdom.

Mr Bukhari, a British national, was informed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on June 11 that his name had been placed on the blacklist, said the petition filed by his lawyer, Sikandar Bashir Mohmand.

According to the petition, Mr Bukhari is facing an inquiry and NAB has issued multiple notices to him since February this year. However, he has not joined the inquiry, and upon receiving a third notice he had told NAB that since he was a British national, the bureau lacked jurisdiction to investigate him.

At the request of NAB’s Additional Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi, Justice Aamer Farooq ordered Mr Bukhari to join the NAB inquiry against him “in good faith”.

The interior ministry’s section officer informed the court that when NAB had forwarded a request to place Mr Bukhari’s name on the ECL, the relevant subcommittee was non-functional so his name was added to the blacklist.

Justice Farooq observed that the blacklist was meant to restrict movement of a person involved in anti-state activities and wondered how Mr Bukhari was allowed to “leave in such haste without informing NAB”.

PPP gets angry

In reaction to the disclosure, Pakistan Peoples Party’s central leader Saeed Ghani demanded the removal of caretaker Interior Minister Azam Khan.

Mr Ghani said the Zulfiqar Bukhari scandal had exposed Mr Khan. “It is not a secret anymore that the interior minister has soft corner for the PTI and is working to facilitate the PTI. How could such an individual be appointed to such a sensitive post when he is openly siding with one political party and could easily influence and use government machinery to benefit that particular political party?” he asked.

Speaking to journalists after the Senate meeting, the interior minister accepted that he was a member of the Imran Khan Foundation. “Imran Khan’s sister requested me to become part of the foundation which was established to help flood affectees,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2018