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Govt decides to remove names of Bilawal, Murad from ECL

Updated January 17, 2019

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The cabinet has also approved Rs750mn in additional grants for NAB. — PID/File
The cabinet has also approved Rs750mn in additional grants for NAB. — PID/File

The federal cabinet has decided to remove the names of PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah from the Exit Control List (ECL), but refuses to excise them from a joint investigation team's (JIT) report on the fake accounts case, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar stated at an evening press conference on Thursday.

The decision was made in line with a Supreme Court order to the government to remove the two's names from the ECL and review the cabinet decision to place the names of more than 170 accused in the fake bank accounts case on its travel restrictions list.

The orders came in relation to a suo motu case concerning the delays surrounding a 2015 FIA probe into the laundering of billions of rupees via fake bank accounts.

The JIT investigating the case, formed by the apex court itself, had earlier recommended the placement of a total 172 people on the no-fly-list.

Several bigwigs, including former president Asif Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, former president of Summit Bank Hussain Lawai and Omni Group's Anwar Majeed, have all been nominated in the case. Property tycoon Malik Riaz, his son-in-law Zain have also been included in the probe.

In its detailed verdict after reviewing reports, the court had ordered that the names of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Shah be removed from both the exit control list and the JIT's report.

The court had further ordered that the case be forwarded to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and directed the anti-corruption watchdog to wrap up its investigation within two months.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who chaired the cabinet meeting on Thursday, directed the interior ministry to remove Bilawal and Shah's names from the ECL with immediate effect.

Citing some confusions about the apex court's detailed verdict, Akbar told reporters on Thursday that as per the court's orders, the accountability watchdog can still recommend the placement of the names of the Sindh chief minister and the PPP head again on the ECL if it deems it warranted.

Akbar further noted that the Supreme Court's order had directed that the JIT continue to support NAB, and that the watchdog will file a reference without waiting for the apex court's orders [in case it finds sufficient legal grounds to do so]. He also added that the references will be filed in the accountability courts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

The new chief justice will appoint a monitoring judge to the case, he added.

Other developments

Iftikhar Durrani, special assistant to the prime minister on media, also addressed the presser. He said that the cabinet had also approved the placement of the development and non-development budget of the Capital Administration and Development Division under the interior ministry.

The cabinet further approved the auction of 20 ships of the Ministry for National Food Security. The cabinet also approved the appointment of retired Maj Gen Amir Azeem as chairman Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, and the appointment of Ali Raza Bhatta, a Grade 21 officer, as secretary of the Benazir Bhutto Income Support Programme.

The cabinet also approved a supplementary grant of Rs750 million for the National Accountability Bureau.

At the onset of the meeting, the prime minister asked two cabinet members, Ali Zaidi and Fawad Chaudhry, to leave the meeting as the Election Commission of Pakistan has suspended their membership of the National Assembly after they, along with 70 other MNAs, failed to submit details of their assets to the commission in time.

'No mini budget but economic reforms package'

Later, while talking to media, Durrani rejected the impression that the government was going to launch a mini budget on Jan 23, 2019. He also categorically denied reports that the government may increase the ratio of sales tax on Jan 23.

"No new tax is going to be introduced," he said, adding that the economic reforms package is aimed at enhancing ease of doing business and to provide some incentives to the business community.