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ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Defence informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan used the Noor Khan Airbase to proceed to Saudi Arabia for Umrah on a chartered flight on June 11 since the facility to operate such a flight was not available at the new Islamabad International Airport (IIA).

In response to a petition filed by a citizen through retired Lt Col Inamur Rahim against the use of the airbase by private individuals, the ministry told the court: “Air headquarters has informed that after inauguration of IIA, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) shifted its flight operations to the new airport. However, IIA does not have the required facilities to operate chartered flights, particularly small business jets, due to which CAA still utilises Rawal Lounge at Benazir Bhutto International Airport together with a small portion of civil tarmac.”

In order to absolve the air force authorities from the controversy, the ministry added: “For such chartered flights, CAA does not obtain permission from the Ministry of Defence/Pakistan Air Force (PAF).”

Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari, a British national, was on June 11 informed at the old airport by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) that his name was on the blacklist.

Also read: How the Interior Ministry’s promptness, indecision was exposed in the Zulfi Bukhari case

Defence ministry says CAA still utilises Benazir Bhutto International Airport for chartered flights, particularly small business jets

Mr Bukhari was briefly stopped from boarding the special private plane bound for Saudi Arabia from the Noor Khan Airbase to perform Umrah with Imran Khan.

“Later, however, he was permitted to travel when Mr Khan directly spoke to “quarters concerned,” the petition stated.

Advocate Rahim adopted before the court that Mr Bukhari was placed in the blacklist but allowed to proceed to Saudi Arabia mere on a phone call after his name was removed from the list in just half an hour.

He asked whether the name of a person placed on the blacklist could be removed by any subordinate officer of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and whether the defence secretary was empowered to allow any civilian to use a military base for landing and taking off a private aircraft without security clearance from secret agencies, especially when the name of that individual was already on the no-fly list.

Justice Aamer Farooq of the IHC also resumed hearing of a petition filed by Mr Bukhari seeking removal of his name from the blacklist.

Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi, additional deputy prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), informed the court that NAB had submitted an application to the interior ministry for placing Mr Bukhari on the Exit Control List (ECL).

He said Mr Bukhari was a dual national and owned offshore companies. NAB had requested for placing his name on the ECL since he was not cooperating in the probe.

He said Mr Bukhari was issued repeated notices but he did not cooperate with NAB. According to him, first call of notice was issued to him on February 20, second on March 9, third on March 20 and fourth notice was issued on April 4. He was asked to appear in person on April 18.

After his repeated absence, the bureau requested the ministry of interior on May 9 to place his name on the ECL.

Mr Abbasi said the interior ministry neither informed NAB that Mr Bukhari’s name was not placed on the ECL nor intimated it about his departure from Pakistan.

According to a report submitted by the FIA, “on June 11, 2018 at 1300 hours, FIA Immigration Officer deputed at Immigration Counter of Rawal Lounge of BBIA reported to Assistant Director (Departure) that 06 passengers intend to travel abroad from Islamabad (old airport) through private jet/chartered flight for Medina.”

It said: “The scrutiny of Integrated Border Management System showed that one of the passengers namely Syed Zulfikar Abbasi Bukhari, British Passport No 518157071 was placed on Blacklist by Ministry of Interior.”

According to the report, the FIA staff confirmed from the section officer on telephone that Mr Bukhari was on the blacklist.

“At approximately 1530 hours, Letter No 12/127/2018 - ECL dated June 18, 2018 was received from section officer ECL regarding ‘One-Time Permission for Performance of Umrah’ in favour of Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari…Accordingly, he was allowed to travel abroad.” After the hearing, Mr Bukhari, who seemed to be frustrated because of repeated appearances in the court since he filed the petition last month, asked his lawyer Sikandar Bashir Mohmand as to why the case was dragging on.

He complained that such cases concluded within days in the UK. But his lawyer reminded him that he was not in Britain but in Pakistan.

Mr Bukhari asked his lawyer to expedite the hearing as he wanted an immediate decision. The lawyer said the court had to examine all the aspects before reaching a conclusion.

The counsel offered him to change his lawyer if he did not have trust in him. Mr Bukhari said he didn’t mean that but wanted an early decision.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2018