LAHORE: The newly minted Shehbaz Sharif government removed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) cybercrime wing chief Babar Bakht Qureshi, who was associated with the probes into an accountability court judge’s video scandal as well as money laundering cases against the MQM and PPP leadership.

The removal of Mr Qureshi comes days after two other officers — FIA Lahore head Mohammad Rizwan and former Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) Punjab director general Gohar Nafees — were placed on the no-fly list.

“Since bringing about a change in investigation agencies (FIA, NAB, ACE) is one of the main targets of the new coalition government, more sackings/transfers are on the cards,” a senior official told Dawn on Wednesday.

According to a notification issued by the Establishment Division, Mr Qureshi, a BPS-20 officer of the Police Service of Pakistan presently serving in the FIA under the interior division, was transferred and directed to report to the Establishment Division with immediate effect and until further orders.

FIA arrests four more suspects over ‘involvement’ in campaign against institutions

While serving as the FIA counter-terrorism wing head, Mr Qureshi had carried out a probe into the Omni Group, prepared corruption references against the PPP leadership and also investigated the agricultural properties of former president Asif Ali Zardari. He was also a part of the joint investigation team probing into the multi-billion money laundering charges against the MQM leadership.

As the head of the cybercrime wing, he had grilled some PML-N leaders, including former premier Nawaz Sharif’s close aide former senator Pervaiz Rashid, in a case of a ‘secretly recorded’ video of accountability judge Arshad Malik, which was provided to the media by Maryam Nawaz.

Under Mr Qureshi, the FIA had also held journalist Hamid Mir’s brother, Amir Mir, for uploading content on his YouTube channels allegedly “against the army, judiciary and women”, and also journalist Mohsin Baig over former communications minister Murad Saeed’s complaint that he had “tarnished my reputation” during a TV show.

On the other hand, despite proceeding on a ‘long’ leave after Mr Sharif became the prime minister, the name of FIA Lahore head Muhammad Rizwan, who was probing into the money laundering cases against the PML-N president and his son Hamza, has been placed on the no-fly list.

Previously, Mr Shehbaz had complained during his appearance before Mr Rizwan that the latter “did not treat me well”. Since Mr Rizwan had also probed into money laundering charges against sugar baron Jahangir Khan Tareen (who is currently supporting the ruling PML-N) and also two media houses in the sugar scam, he was said to be in the bad books of the PML-N leadership.

Similarly, former ACE Punjab chief Gohar Nafees has been on the radar of the new government over his action against around three dozen PML-N leaders and office-bearers, including Khwaja Asif and his family members. The ACE, under Mr Nafees, had also laid hands on the Khokhar brothers of the PML-N, who were considered very close to Maryam Nawaz, in land grabbing cases.

More held in anti-institutions drive

Meanwhile, the FIA counter-terrorism wing on Wednesday arrested four more suspects in Punjab over their alleged involvement in a defamatory campaign against state institutions, especially the army, since former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted through a no-confidence motion.

Though the agency had not associated the online abusers with any political party, but PTI senior leader Asad Umar had said the party would move court against harassment of its social media activists.

On Tuesday, the FIA had arrested eight suspects from different parts of Punjab. However, only one of them was presented before a court in Lahore on Wednesday which remanded him in FIA custody for two days.

An investigating officer of the agency produced suspect Shafqat Masood before a judicial magistrate, stating that his involvement in sharing derogatory tweets against the army chief and the institution had been proved. He sought the custody of the suspect for the recovery of digital media equipment and asked the magistrate to grant a 14-day remand. However, the magistrate allowed physical remand of the suspect for two days.

HRCP calls out arrests

In a statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said the recent wave of arrests and harassment of PTI supporters allegedly for having been part of a ‘smear campaign’ against the institutions must be condemned in no uncertain terms.

It said all the citizens, regardless of their political affiliation, enjoyed the right to freedom of expression and opinion. The commission urged the new government not to follow in the footsteps of the previous one and ensure that entrenched curbs on this fundamental right were dissolved once for all.

The FIA counterterrorism wing had sprung into action after a vilification drive against the army chief was launched on social networking websites following Mr Imran Khan’s ouster on April 10 in the wake of a no-confidence move by the joint opposition in the National Assembly.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2022

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