ISLAMABAD: Amid a noticeable rise in political temperature, the interior ministry has finally placed name of the opposition leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif on the Exit Control List (ECL) while allowing him to seek a review of the decision within 15 days.

A notification issued on Monday by the interior ministry reveals that the federal cabinet had accorded approval for inclusion of the PML-N leader’s name in the no-fly list on the second day of Eid (May 14) on the recommendation of a cabinet’s subcommittee following a request by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Explaining the basis of the decision, the notification stated: “[With] NAB reference bearing ACR No.22/2020 having been finalised, the trial thereof is in progress. However, the exit of Mian Mohammad Shehbaz Sharif from Pakistan will delay proceedings in the trial.”

Interior ministry says he might tamper with evidence or dispose of his assets in the UK

It pointed out that the case against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president involved a colossal sum of over Rs7 billion. “Therefore, like his brother, if Shehbaz Sharif absconds, his extradition from the UK will not be possible,” it stated, adding that other Sharif family members, who were co-accused in the NAB reference and absconders, were residing in the UK.

According to the notification, it is apprehended that the accused person might tamper with the evidence or dispose of his assets in the UK. In the past, Shehbaz had breached his undertaking to the Lahore High Court that he would bring his brother back to the country. The notification stated: “No dispensation to appear has been sought from the trial court nor a pleader has been appointed for the purposes of the trial. All other accused persons are on the ECL, hence the dictates of Article 25 of the Constitution supports Shehbaz’s name to be placed on the ECL by way of equal treatment. No data is available from which it can be assessed that Shehbaz requires medical treatment which is not available in Pakistan.”

Shortly after the issuance of the notification, the interior minister told a presser that five members of the Sharif family were absconders in cases and residing in London. He said it would have been difficult to bring Shehbaz back like his elder brother if he too was allowed to travel abroad.

The minister said if he was allowed to leave the country, there was a possibility that he could tamper with the evidence or attempt to influence approvers in the case.

While recalling that Shehbaz was the guarantor to bring Nawaz Sharif back, Mr Rashid said: “Instead of bringing his brother back, Shehbaz Sharif himself was trying to flee the country before dawn.”

The interior minister then observed that Pakistan was the only country where a case had been filed and decided same day. While an air ticket too had been issued the same day, it was not possible for the opposition leader to get a direct flight to the UK as he was supposed to be quarantined in Qatar for 15 days before travelling to the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Rashid told the media that Article 25 of the Constitution called for equal treatment to all the accused. He argued that Shehbaz was trying to escape in darkness when the names of 14 other suspects in the money laundering case were already on the ECL.

He said the opposition leader had not submitted any medical documents about his health condition or disease, neither any board had been formed for his medical examination as had been done in the case of his brother.

Also, Shehbaz had neither filed any application in the trial court nor had appointed any representative for the purpose, he said.

Responding to a question, Mr Rashid said the PML-N president could file a review application on the matter with the interior ministry within 15 days.

Answering another question, the minister said there were no differences between the PTI government and military leadership. He quoted Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa as telling a meeting, which was attended among others by opposition leaders Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the Army stood by the democratic institutions and elected government.

In a related tweet, Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry said with the approval of the cabinet and completion of all legal formalities, Shehbaz’s name had been added to the ECL. “The relevant record has been updated in this regard,” he added.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2021

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