SC irked by move to place CM Sindh, other politicians' names on ECL; asks cabinet to review decision
The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the federal cabinet to review its decision to place the names of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and other politicians on the Exit Control List (ECL).
State Minister for Interior Shehryar Afridi also appeared before the court today after Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar summoned him over the placement of 172 suspects — who were named in a money laundering scam — on the ECL.
"Review this decision, take it back to the cabinet," the chief justice said, while asking for the order regarding the placement of suspects' names on the ECL to be submitted in court.
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A two-member bench comprising Justice Nisar and Justice Ijazul Ahsan was hearing a suo motu case on a delay in a 2015 probe into fake bank accounts allegedly used to launder billions of rupees.
Several bigwigs, including Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, former president of Summit Bank Hussain Lawai and Omni Group's Anwar Majeed, have been nominated in the case. Property tycoon Malik Riaz, his son-in-law Zain, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have also been included in the probe.
During the hearing today, the chief justice expressed anger over the placement of the suspects' names on the ECL and summoned "the minister responsible" for the move to court.
"Why were the names placed on the ECL?" Justice Nisar asked. "A JIT report is just a report, we have yet to review it."
"How will you justify placing the names of 172 people on the ECL?" he demanded. Referring to the placement of Chief Minister Shah's name on the ECL, the chief justice said: "I find it very strange that a sitting chief minister's name was placed on the ECL."
Speaking to the attorney general, Justice Nisar said: "You placed the name of the chief minister of the second largest province on the ECL. Tomorrow, you may place the name of the National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) chairman on the ECL and tell him to continue working."
"Maybe we should place four ministers' names on the ECL so that there is a balance," the chief justice suggested.
The attorney general claimed it was the JIT that had recommended placing the suspects' names on the no-fly list. "This confusion is created by the JIT," he said and added that the JIT head Ahsan Sadiq had "expressed reservations" regarding the flight risk posed by the suspects in a letter.
Justice Nisar, however, said that "names should not be added to the ECL on the basis of a letter from the JIT".
"What if the [Sindh] chief minister has to travel to Turkey with the prime minister?" the chief justice asked.
State prosecutor Faisal Siddiqui explained that JIT did not have the mandate to recommend that someone be arrested or a corruption reference be filed against them. "The court has given limited authority to the JIT," Siddiqui said.
He said that the JIT had given its recommendations in 16 cases that were investigated. It was recommended that NAB investigate further and then file a reference.
Justice Nisar remarked that the JIT had "exceeded its mandate" by writing recommendations in its letter. Justice Ahsan said that the letter contained the "point of view" of the JIT head and Federal Investigation Bureau.
Sindh's advocate general, who also appeared before court today, claimed that Shah "did not even know that investigation against him was underway".
"He was never summoned," said the attorney general and appealed the court to take Shah's name off the no-fly list. The chief justice said that if Sindh chief minister had to travel somewhere, he should submit a request, otherwise the decision will be reviewed by the cabinet.
Justice Nisar lashed out at Sadiq and asked him the reason behind placing Shah's name on the ECL.
"We did not see his designation but his character," the JIT head answered and insisted that the probe team had requested the placement of suspects' names on the ECL with "bona fide intentions".
"The JIT should work within the mandate it has been granted," the chief justice responded. He also pointed out that the court had not given its ruling on the findings of the JIT report.
Former president Asif Zardari's counsel Farooq H. Naek, who had appeared before court today, asked the bench to grant him one week to submit his client's response, saying that he was "mentally distressed" because his name had been included in the ECL as well. His request was granted.
"No one is stopping you," the chief justice told Naek. "You tell your client that justice will be done."
He said that the "court will dispel the false impression of Zardari and (his sister) Faryal Talpur created by the media" in light of their response to the JIT report.
The hearing was adjourned until Jan 7.
Malik Riaz appears before court
Bahria Town's Chief Executive Officer Malik Riaz, whose name had surfaced in the JIT report, also appeared before court today. The court had ordered him and his son-in-law Zain Malik to appear before the court for today's hearing in person.
"Why does your name crop up everywhere?" the chief justice asked.
"I am working in Pakistan, my name will appear [in cases]," Riaz said. Justice Nisar responded that the property tycoon was working with the people who had been named in the case. However, Riaz claimed that Bahria Town's Icon Tower, that was named in the JIT report as controversial, was planned in 2005, when Pervez Musharraf was in power.
"Then we will send this matter to NAB," chief justice remarked.
The court had ordered Nimr Majeed, Zain and Riaz to appear before court today. Director general of the Federal Investigation Bureau (FIA), Sindh chief secretary, NAB's prosecutor general and Sindh's advocate general were also ordered to appear as well as members of the JIT and attorney general. The complete records of the alleged fake accounts will be submitted in court today.
According to DawnNewsTV, Zardari, Bilawal and Shah decided not to appear personally before the court today.
'Democracy must not be derailed'
In conversation with Sheheryar Afridi, the top judge addressed rumours regarding a push by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government to topple the PPP-led Sindh government and impose governor rule in the province, warning that "democracy must not be derailed".
Justice Nisar told Afridi that "the government must issue a clear statement regarding this matter" and questioned how governor rule could be imposed without properly understanding the issue at hand.
He said that the judiciary had not allowed democracy to be derailed in the past "when there were threats".
The attorney general assured the chief justice that every decision will be taken in accordance with the Constitution and claimed that the impression of the imposition of governor rule was being given by the media.
'Why don't we send this case to the media?'
During the hearing, the chief justice also expressed his displeasure over discussions on the JIT report in the media and said: "Why don't we send this case to the media, they can review it."
"What concern is it of the ministers who come on television and give their analysis on the matter?" he added. "The ministers' job is to legislate."
"The court has not passed any order over the JIT report yet. Why is everyone creating a ruckus?"
Justice Nisar also summoned the director general of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority and said that the body should "explain why the Supreme Court's orders were not being followed".
Last month, the court had ordered Pemra to take strict action against TV channels discuss sub judice matters in their talk shows.
He ordered the Pemra chief to review the programmes On the front with Kamran Shahid and Dunya Kamran Khan Kay Sath that were recently aired on Dunya News TV.
He also ordered the production of the video clips of news reports and analysis over the JIT report before the court.
The JIT, in its report submitted last week, claimed that a close nexus had between found between the Zardari, Bahria Town and Omni groups. The report revealed that at least 29 bank accounts had been identified as fake which had been used for money laundering of Rs42 billion.
The JIT had probed 11,500 bank accounts of 924 individuals and companies associated with the fake accounts, the report said.
It also revealed that kickbacks of Rs1.36bn had been laundered through bank accounts of 19 contractors. Similarly, Rs10.2bn had been laundered through accounts of Bahria Town that were allegedly being maintained by Zain and Mushtaq Ahmad, a former secretary of former president Zardari.
A JIT member informed the bench that Ahmad was also involved in model Ayyan Ali’s money laundering case.