LAHORE: Citing ‘procedural hiccups’, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Saturday stopped opposition leader and PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif from leaving the country for London, causing a fresh round of bickering between the PTI government and the party led by the Sharifs.
The PML-N was quick to blame Prime Minister Imran Khan for ‘using FIA’ to create hurdles in the opposition leader’s departure despite the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) ‘clear order’ in this respect, terming the government’s action ‘contempt’ of court.
As a federal minister and an adviser announced challenging the LHC’s decision in the apex court, it is likely that Mr Shehbaz’s departure is further delayed.
Since some PTI cabinet members had openly criticised the court’s decision and hinted at stopping Mr Shehbaz at the airport on ‘procedural ground’, the FIA’s action was not a surprise.
A party insider says some PTI ‘hawks’ think that the [party’s] accountability and corruption narrative will get a setback if the government allows Mr Shehbaz to leave the country without creating ‘legal’ hurdles. “Besides they are also wary of Mr Shehbaz’s links with the ‘powers that be’ and apprehend that something is being cooked against the PTI,” he told Dawn.
The LHC on Friday had granted Mr Shehbaz ‘conditional permission’ to travel to the UK for medical treatment from May 8 to July 3.
Early on Saturday, Mr Shehbaz reached the Allama Iqbal International Airport to catch a Qatar Airways flight to reach his destination via Doha. However, immigration officials told him that he could not board the flight as his name was on the ‘person not in list (PNIL)’.
“Mr Shehbaz showed the immigration officials the LHC’s order about its one-time permission to him to go to the United Kingdom for medical check-up but they insisted that since his name had appeared in the stop list, he could not be allowed to leave the country. They also informed him to approach the FIA headquarters to get his name off the stop list through this court order. Mr Shehbaz argued with the immigration officials for some time but failed to convince them. On this Mr Shehbaz left the airport for his Model Town residence in anger,” a source told Dawn.
He further said: “Unless a court order in any such case is officially communicated to the FIA, name of any person cannot be removed from the stop list. For the purpose, Integrated Border Management System (IBMS) has to be updated. Till now Mr Shehbaz’s name is shown in the stop list through IBMS system which cannot be changed even on verbal order from the top.”
Led by Marriyum Aurangzeb, a PML-N team, comprising lawmakers, reached the FIA office on Temple Road and delivered the LHC’s order with a request to ‘immediately’ remove Mr Shehbaz’s name from the stop list. As the FIA office was closed, security officials received the application.
Special Assistant to the PM on accountability Shahzad Akbar alleged that the PML-N lawmakers barged into the FIA office in Lahore which was closed in connection with Eid holidays.
PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb challenged Mr Akbar to show any video in which PML-N leaders had attacked the FIA building.
Talking to reporters [outside the FIA building], Ms Aurangzeb asked the government [for] how long it could stop Mr Shehbaz from leaving the country. She said the FIA officials were present in the court when it allowed Mr Shehbaz to go abroad for treatment. “At the behest of Imran Khan, Fawad Chaudhry and Shahzad Akbar, Mr Shehbaz was stopped from leaving the country,” she said.
“The FIA and other government institutions should stop committing contempt of court at the behest of the ‘selected’ government. We are mulling over legal action in this regard as well,” she said.
Ms Aurangzeb said Mr Shehbaz’s name was neither in Exit Control List nor in black list so his name was placed in new category — PNIL.
PML-N leader and part of Mr Shehbaz’s legal team, Ataullah Tarar, said there were two Pakistans — one where PM Khan could get his close aide Zulfi Bukhari’s name removed from the ECL in over an hour and the other one in which the FIA’s system was not updated despite the court order.
PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz said in a tweet: “Highly condemnable how jaali government has brazenly violated court order by stopping @CMShehbaz at the airport today. Shows how scared selected is of him.”
Last month Shahbaz Sharif walked free from Kot Lakhpat jail after seven months behind bars in the money laundering and assets beyond means reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau.
Three-time premier Nawaz Sharif has been in London since November 2019 on ‘medical grounds’.
The government has declared Mr Sharif an absconder and cancelled his passport. Mr Sharif left the country after the court granted him bail in the Al-Azizia Mills corruption case in which he was undergoing seven-year imprisonment.
The LHC had granted Mr Sharif a four-week bail on medical grounds to have his treatment abroad. The government declared him an absconder after he failed to justify his prolonged stay in London.
PTI leaders’ reactions
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Mr Shehbaz’s legal team did not submit an application to the FIA director general who was authorised to remove his name from the black list.
“No change (is possible) in the record/system on verbal orders. The government will challenge the LHC decision in the apex court.”
Shahzad Akbar said the court had ordered removal of Mr Shehbaz’s name from the black list for one time. “Now if Mr Shehbaz’s name is in PNIL then how this court order has to be seen,” he said.
Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2021