Imran can be arrested during cipher probe inquiry stage, says Sanaullah

Published July 20, 2023
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday. — APP/file
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday. — APP/file

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Thursday stated that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) might arrest former prime minister Imran Khan if he fails to cooperate with their investigation into the cipher.

The minister’s warning comes a day after Imran’s ex-principal secretary — in an alleged confession that surfaced on Wednesday — accused his former boss of using a cipher from Pakistan’s mission in the US to gain political mileage and build an “anti-establishment narrative” on the back of the “confidential” document.

Sanaullah had on Wednesday also held a press conference to lend credence to the confessional statement circulating on social media and assail the PTI chief.

Soon after his presser, the FIA issued a notice to Imran, asking him to appear before the bureau in Islamabad on July 25 in connection with the cipher probe.

Today, the interior minister provided an update on the FIA investigation, issuing a reminder to the former premier to be prepared to face the law.

“The FIA has summoned the PTI chairman in the cipher investigation. If he does not cooperate during the inquiry stage, he could face possible arrest. Following the investigation, the FIA will make recommendations based on evidence regarding those who are complicit and against whom criminal cases should be filed,” the minister stated on Twitter.

Later, Law Minister Azam Khan alleged during a press conference that Imran never returned the cipher to the relevant department and now the “FIA is handling the matter under the Official Secrets Act”.

In response to a question, he elaborated that a penalty of two years could be meted out if classified documents were damaged due to negligence and if there was evidence that these documents were used for personal purposes and national security was damaged in the act, the guilty party could be sent to jail for 14 years or more.

‘Whistleblower’ returns home

In a surprising turn of events, Azam Khan, who had been missing since last month, resurfaced after a letter attributed to him regarding his statement against Imran emerged. He has now returned home, his lawyer told Dawn.

However, lawyer Qasim Wadud told Dawn that his client was “not in a condition” to comment on the statement being attributed to him.

Azam went missing on June 15 and a case regarding his kidnapping was registered by the Islamabad police. According to the complaint, he left his house in the capital in the evening and did not return.

A petition seeking the recovery of Azam Khan is also pending before the IHC.

Speaking to reporters during a court appearance on Wednesday, Imran said: “Azam Khan is an honest man; until I hear [this] from him myself, I will not believe it.”

‘Unverified’ statement

The unmarked statement attributed to Azam Khan states that “on March 8, 2022, [the] foreign secretary approached Mohammad Azam Khan and informed [him] regarding [the] cipher… [and] that [then] foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had already discussed the cipher with the Imran Khan…”

The statement claimed that Imran Khan was allegedly “euphoric” after seeing the cipher and decided to use it to build an “anti-establishment narrative” on the back of a ‘blunder’ committed by the US.

As per the alleged confession: “The cipher copy was retained by Imran Khan and the next day (March 10) when he asked for it, Imran Khan replied that he has misplaced it.” The statement claimed that the PTI chief did not return the original cipher, despite repeated requests.

It went on to state that the former PS to the PM had advised his boss not to disclose the contents of the cipher since it was a confidential document.

The statement of the bureaucrat was reportedly recorded under Section 164 of CrPC before a magistrate. Usually, a witness, an aggrieved person, or an accused records such a statement under oath and before a magistrate. And in the case of Section 161, the investigation officer records the statement of a witness, which does not even require the signature of the witness.

However, sources in the district judiciary said that the statement was not recorded before any judicial magistrate. There is a possibility that an executive magistrate might have recorded the statement; however, the purported statement has not been shared with the district judiciary yet.

‘Fabricated narrative’

After the statement went public, the interior minister had termed the narrative behind the cipher ‘fabricated’. He claimed that Imran Khan committed a crime and ex-foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was an “abettor”.

The interior minister had xplained that since the cipher was a confidential document, its disclosure was unlawful and a crime. “This case is similar to the proceedings initiated against former US President Donald Trump for mishandling classified documents,” he added.

The minister further alleged that while “Imran told Azam that the cipher had gone missing, my assessment is that he (Imran) still has it”.

Asked whether this case would also be referred to a ‘special court’ as others being conducted under the Official Secrets Act, he replied in the affirmative.

PTI chief vows a ‘proper expose’

In response to the allegations levelled by Sanaullah, the PTI chairman promised a ‘proper expose’ on the cipher episode.

In a post from his Twitter account, Imran claimed he would share “uncensored details” of how this conspiracy unfolded to overthrow a government. “I assure you, it will be more gripping than any drama on TV,” he quipped.

Additional input from Malik Asad and APP

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