ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday expressed his annoyance over non-submission of a written reply by the Ministry of Defence on a petition seeking court directives to investigate the removal of Zulfi Bukhari’s name from the ECL and the usage of Noor Khan Airbase for facilitating the departure of a private person through his private plane.

IHC judge Aamer Farooq conducted hearing of the petition wherein the court was requested to initiate proceedings against the officials of defence and interior ministries for allowing Bukhari to depart from the Noor Khan Airbase. The IHC bench censured a representative of the Defence Ministry for not submitting the written reply and directed him to submit the same at the next hearing on July 2.

During the hearing, the representative of Defense Ministry told the court that last night, he was asked to appear before the court and even the copy of the petition was not provided to him.

Justice Aamer remarked that he should have appeared before the court along with the written reply and such a delay should not occur in official work. He said that they should be careful about other respondents because people appear before the court in respect of the law.

The court also asked from officials of the Interior Ministry that why they put the name of Zulfi Bukhari on the blacklist while the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had submitted the application to put his name on the Exit Control List (ECL).

The official of Interior Ministry replied that the NAB had moved a request for placing Bukhari’s name on the ECL, but at that time the relevant subcommittee was dysfunctional so his name was added to the blacklist.

Later, the court adjourned the hearing till July 2 directing the Defense Ministry to submit its written response. 

Bukhari, a British national, moved the court through his counsel Sikandar Bashir Mohmand and prayed to the court to remove his name from the list.

Bukhari was briefly stopped from boarding a special private plane bound for Saudi Arabia from Noor Khan Airbase to perform Umrah along with PTI Imran Khan on June 11, but later he was permitted to travel.

According to the petition, Bukhari was facing an inquiry and the NAB has issued multiple notices to him since February. However, Bukhari has not joined the inquiry, and upon receiving a third notice, he stated that since he was a British national, the NAB lacked the jurisdiction to investigate him.

Similarly, another petition was moved by a citizen, Muhammad Kausar, through his counsel Inamul Rahim and cited the Federation through Secretary Ministry of Defence, Secretary Ministry of Interior and Director General (DG) Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) as respondents.

The petitioner stated that on June 11, Bukhari accompanied the PTI chief on his way to Saudi Arabia while Bukhari’s name was on the ECL. Therefore, he was stopped by immigration authorities at the Noor Khan Airbase.

He said that the name of Bukhari was placed on the ECL along with other owners of offshore companies in line with the order of the NAB in connection with its probe into the Panama Papers scandal and the said action for placing the name of Bukhari on the ECL by the NAB was on the directions of the Supreme Court to take action against all those who owned offshore firms.

The petitioner maintained that allegedly, the PTI chief used his influence over the caretaker government to have Bukhari’s name removed from the ECL and the Ministry of Interior issued a letter granting one-time “permission” to Bukhari for travelling abroad for six days.

The counsel contended that the proper procedure was not followed for the removal of his name from the ECL which required the clearance from the cabinet’s sub-committee that deals with the ECL cases. He said that whereas it has also been alleged that Bukhari’s name was removed from the ECL on the intervention of interim Interior Minister Azam Khan who was allegedly closely linked to the PTI chief.

He continued that the interim interior minister was a board member of Imran Khan Foundation (IKF), a charity and welfare organization managed by Khan.

Inamur Rahim argued that in order to further compromise the impartiality of the interim government and state institutions, special arrangements were made for the PTI chief to use the Air Force base to fly from his chartered plane with full protocol. “The use of a military base for his private visit was against the rules and such facility is not extended to any other citizen or the head of any other political party,” said the counsel.

Therefore, he prayed to the court that the matter may be investigated by the FIA that on whose orders, the name of Bukhari was removed from the ECL and under what authority of law Noor Khan Airbase was used for facilitating the departure of a private person through his private plane.