ISLAMABAD - Zulfi Bukhari, a close aide to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan, continues to remain present in some official meetings of the party despite the fact that he does not hold any official position in the party.

Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari alias Zulfi Bukhari, a British citizen of Pakistani origin and multi-millionaire businessman, recently made headlines in the media when the interior ministry excluded his name from the no fly list in haste and just minutes before he had to fly for Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah along with Khan and his wife. Caretaker Interior Minister Azam Khan also came under criticism in this connection, as he is also the director of Imran Khan Foundation (IKF), a non-government organization.

At a time when Bukhari was being criticized for getting his name excluded from the interior ministry’s no fly-list while using the influence of the PTI chief, some within the PTI were also questioning his role within the party as he holds no official position.

Bukhari is known for his closeness with Khan and has been giving donations to both Khan’s charitable and political causes. His father Syed Wajid Hussain Bukhari remained caretaker federal minister for environment during the regime of former military ruler Gen (retd) Pervaiz Musharraf prior to 2008 elections.

Background interviews with some PTI leaders indicate that Bukhari often remains present in some official meetings of the PTI.

An office-bearer of the PTI’s Central Secretariat was of the view that Bukhari never influenced the party decisions but he admitted that he spent most of his time in Bani Gala, the residence and political official of Khan during his stay in Pakistan. He, however, said that Bukhari used to arrange some high-profile meetings for Khan. “Whenever Bukhari receives requests from some high profile people seeking a meeting with Khan, he gets arranged such meetings,” he said.

PTI’s Central Media Department head Iftikhar Durrani denied that Bukhari remained present in official meetings of the PTI. “Bukhari is not a member of any of the highest level decision-making bodies of the PTI including the core committee and the central executive committee and the people in the PTI are very vocal and they don’t spare anyone sitting in the official meetings who don’t have an official position,” he said. He said that the PTI chief has always kept aside his friendships from his political activities as well as the party, he said. He further said that Bukhari arranges fundraisers in the UK for Khan’s charitable causes.

A recent report submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which is hearing two petitions, one of Bukhari seeking removal of his name from the blacklist and other seeking action against the officials of the interior ministry for allowing him to fly abroad, showed the haste exhibited by the interior ministry to remove his name from the blacklist.

According to the FIA report, “the Integrated Border Management System (IBMS) installed at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Islamabad, pointed out on June 11 at around 1 pm that Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari aka Zulfi Bukhari was on the blacklist and could not be allowed to fly abroad. At that time, he was about to fly through chartered flight along with PTI chief Imran Khan, his spouse Bushra Manika, Aleem Khan and his spouse and Awn Chaudhry, the political secretary to the PTI chairman”.

The Ministry of Interior had blacklisted his name on the request of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after he avoided joining an investigation vis-à-vis his offshore company surfaced in the Panama Papers. Though the NAB on May 10 requested the ministry to place his name on the exit control list (ECL), the latter placed his name on the blacklist saying the process of placing anyone’s name on the ECL required a prior approval of the cabinet.

In just two hours, the ministry processed his application seeking removal of his name from the no-fly list and two-and-a-half-hour later, the FIA staff received a letter from the ministry titled “One-Time Permission for Performance of Umrah” in Bukhari’s favour. Consequently, he was allowed to travel abroad.