ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Barrister Shahzad Akbar brief the media about the cabinet’s sub-committee meeting on Wednesday.—APP
ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Barrister Shahzad Akbar brief the media about the cabinet’s sub-committee meeting on Wednesday.—APP

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Wednesday said a sub-committee of the federal cabinet recommended that the name of Shehbaz Sharif, opposition leader in the National Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president, be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL).

The recommendation unanimously made by the sub-committee that considered a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) request to this effect was being sent to the cabinet for a final decision, the minister said while addressing a joint press conference with Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Barrister Mirza Shahzad Akbar.

Mr Ahmed said Law Minister Barrister Farogh Nasim had joined the special meeting of the cabinet’s sub-committee via video link.

Shehbaz’s name is already on the provisional national identification list (PNIL) meant to impose a temporary bar on someone to leave the country, according to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) that stopped him at airport from travelling abroad on May 8.

More cases against Sharifs to be reopened, says PM’s aide

Speaking about Shehbaz’s name being placed on a ‘blacklist’, Mr Ahmed said it was not the case at all, as “the court’s decision came with regard to a blacklist. [But] Shahbaz Sharif was not on a black list. He was [...] under an order of May 7, 2021.”

According to the interior minister, three lists are maintained by the government to prevent someone from travelling abroad: one is the blacklist carrying names provided by the Passport Office, the second is PNIL to which names are included by the FIA, and the third is ECL where the final power to place somebody’s name rests with the federal cabinet.

Mr Ahmed said Shehbaz was a guarantor of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan from London where he had gone on medical ground. “We have not been told of any medical ground on which Shehbaz was leaving the country,” he said about the former Punjab chief minister’s attempt to fly from the Lahore airport to the UK via Qatar in the early morning hours of May 8.

The interior minister said five members of the Sharif family were absconders. As the names of all other accused in the telegraphic transfer (TT) case were on the ECL, an exemption could not be given to an individual, he made it clear.

He said that PML-N leaders were trying to escape the country only due to the reopening of Hudaibiya Paper Mills case. “They chose the time of Sehri to run away knowing that the [Hudaibiya Paper Mills] case was about to be reopened.”

The NAB had filed the HPM reference in the year 2000 accusing the entire Sharif family of misappropriating Rs1.24 billion – an amount which it claimed was “unexplainable and disproportionate” to their known sources of income. The LHC, however, quashed the reference in 2014 and the NAB did not make any attempt to challenge the court verdict in the Supreme Court. The NAB finally decided in September 2017 to challenge the 2014 LHC judgement, but the Supreme Court rejected the appeal on December 15, 2017 and a review petition on October 30, 2018.

Speaking at the presser, PM’s aide Shahzad Akbar said that if Shehbaz had been allowed to go abroad, the proceedings of multiple cases against would have come to halt.

Barrister Akbar was of the opinion that the HPM case was closed on technical grounds, but factually it did not come to its logical conclusion. He said any case could be reopened if new evidence surfaced, explaining that the case had never gone to trial, because the Sharifs ‘made a deal’ and fled to Saudi Arabia in 2000.

He said the LHC decision noted that neither the NAB nor the federal government wanted to pursue the case so it was ‘closed on technical grounds’. “The institution that should have appealed did not do so in time and when it did after years, of course, the Supreme Court said the time had passed. This is why the case was closed. Factually, it has not ended,” he reiterated.

The adviser shared that the government’s legal team, the attorney general as well as private counsel believed the case could be reopened because “we have evidence”. He said: “Crime was committed. A lot of money laundering was done in the Qazi family’s name and the Sharif empire was set up. The Sharif empire progressed in two different decades — in the 1990s and after 2000.”

The PM’s aide disclosed that other cases related to the Sharifs would also be reopened. “The case was closed but the crime exists. Because that is being opened, their attempts to flee are increasing and the government will take action on that as well,” he argued.

Barrister Akbar said the subcommittee had made the recommendation to place Shehbaz’s name on the ECL because his trial before an accountability court in Lahore was under way, while cases such as Ramzan Sugar Mills case, Chaudhry Sugar Mills case and other investigations by the FIA had also been under way.

“If Shehbaz was allowed to leave, all these cases would face delays and would be an infringement on the rights of the co-accused in the cases,” he said.

The adviser said the PML-N had gained expertise in misleading people with the narrative that court had acquitted their leadership in the case.

Asked about the release of banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) workers, the interior minister said that only 1,677 TLP workers detained under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) had been released, while the TLP activists who had been booked in 280 FIRs would have to go through the legal procedure.

Mr Ahmed said no leader had more love for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) than Prime Minister Imran Khan. “Those criticising his Saudi visit will see the big deals and decisions he has made with the Saudi leadership.” He announced that 1,100 Pakistanis languishing in Saudi jails would be brought to Pakistan after Eid.

He also condemning the attacks by Israel on Palestine and said the entire Muslim world condemned the Isreali atrocities against Palestinians and Indian atrocities against Kashmiris.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2021

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