SC rebukes govt over hasty ECL move

January 01, 2019

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ISLAMABAD: A visibly disturbed Supreme Court ordered the federal cabinet on Monday to reconsider its “hasty decision” of placing the names of 172 individuals, including Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and other Pakistan Peoples Party stalwarts, on the Exit Control List (ECL).

At the same time, a two-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar cautioned the federal government against perceived attempts to impose governor’s rule in Sindh to dislodge the provincial government.

Waving a copy of the green book (Constitution), the chief justice observed that whatever had to be done should be done while remaining within the four corners of the Constitution, otherwise the court would not take even a minute to strike it down.

The court had taken up the report of a joint investigation team (JIT) constituted to probe fake bank accounts revolving around a 2015 inquiry into the suspicious transactions when ‘benami’ accounts were identified.

CJP cautions against perceived attempts to impose governor’s rule in Sindh

On the recommendations of the JIT, the federal cabinet had in its meeting on Dec 27 decided to place the names of 172 individuals on the ECL, including Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Faryal Talpur, Murad Ali Shah, Farooq H. Naek and several other leaders and provincial ministers belonging to the PPP.

But the apex court asked the federal cabinet to reconsider the decision in its next meeting and decide the matter after due application of mind instead of merely relying on the JIT recommendations.

“The JIT report is not a holy scripture,” the chief justice obser­ved, adding that a sitting chief minister was being stigmatised.

The court also made it clear that it would not tolerate any attempt to derail democracy since it was one of the basic pillars of the Constitu­tion, recalling that such attempts had been resisted in the past as well.

Earlier, the court asked for the summary under which the cabinet had placed the names on the ECL. When Minister of State for Interior Shaharyar Afridi appeared before the court with documents after a tea break, it transpired that the cabinet had taken the decision on a letter written by the JIT to the interior ministry.

The bench asked who gave the JIT the mandate to ask the government for putting the names on the ECL that too by creating an impression as if the apex court had issued such a directive. “Did we ever empower JIT to put the names on the ECL?” the chief justice asked and said one should not engage in such shenanigans. “Will the chief minister flee from his own province?”

The chief justice also asked Additional Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Ehsan Sadiq, who also heads the JIT, why the court should not place his name on the ECL.

The statements and comments by different cabinet members on the subject also irked the Supreme Court which wondered what business they had to comment on a matter pending before the court. It was the court that which had asked for the report from the JIT, the chief justice said and asked why the court should not also order placing of the names of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief ministers on the ECL.

Faisal Siddiqui, the counsel for the JIT, explained that the purpose of the team was to conduct a thorough investigation into 32 fake bank accounts. He said the JIT had arrived at three conclusions, including filing of 16 references by the National Accountability Bureau that too after a final investigation by the bureau.

The JIT did not have to determine the guilt of any accused as it was the job of the trial court, the counsel said, adding that the JIT had also investigated nine other cases but did not recommend filing of any reference until a final probe. The JIT had also suggested certain interim measures to safeguard the third party interest, he said, adding that what the JIT never asked for was to recommend disqualification or arrest of any elected representative or individual since it was not its mandate.

During the hearing, Advocate General for Sindh Salman Talibuddin requested the court to order deleting the name of the chief minister from the ECL. He said demands were being made that the chief minister resign immediately and talks of a forward bloc had surfaced.

He regretted that the JIT members had met the chief minister a number of times seeking his assistance for the procurement of documents but not once they informed Mr Shah that he was also under FIA’s scrutiny. If the federal government really felt that the name of Mr Shah should be on the ECL, they should also assign cogent reasons, Mr Talibuddin argued.

The Supreme Court also allowed senior counsel Farooq Naek to furnish a proper reply on behalf of Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur within a week after disapproving his offer to withdraw since his name had also been mentioned in the JIT for filing of reference against him.

Sardar Latif Khosa appeared before the court and said that since Mr Naek had been designated by the JIT as an accused, he would be representing Ms Zardari and Ms Talpur.

But the bench observed that no one could stop Mr Naek, being a senior counsel, from appearing before the court. It even stated that any aspersions against Mr Naek was extraneous and irresponsible and might be struck down, adding that the court would not like to relieve Mr Naek and he might continue representing his clients.

The court also expressed surprise over the mentioning of Attorney General Anwar Mansoor’s name in the report and ordered the FIA to probe how a fake clip of Sardar Latif Khosa in social media become viral which was also used by certain electronic media.

CJP’s offer to Malik Riaz

During the proceedings, the chief justice asked Malik Riaz of the Bahria Town (Pvt) Limited why his name surfaced all the time in every other case taken up by the court.

“Because I am working in Pakistan,” Malik Riaz shot back. He said he had purchased a piece of land for Bahria Icon Towers in Karachi in 2005 during the Musharraf government, adding that he should have been considered guilty had he not paid the amount for the land.

When the chief justice offered to give Mr Riaz a clean chit provided he handed over Rs500 billion instead of one trillion rupees, the property tycoon said he was ready to settle issues but he had earned Rs1,000bn only in his entire business life of 22 years.

He also asked the court to take over any property it wanted to and also denied playing any role in making or breaking governments.

The bench asked Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority chairman Muhammad Saleem to examine the talk shows of Kamran Shahid and Kamran Khan of Dunya TV whether they had flouted earlier guidelines of the apex court not to comment on sub judice matters.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan regretted that the JIT had done a fact-finding exercise, but the media picked up half truth and not only conducted trials but also issued convictions.

The court also regretted that the media prejudiced the sub judice matter.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2019