ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan has directed the authorities concerned to present the details of the cabinet members whose names have been removed from the Exit Control List (ECL).
The directive came as a five-member larger bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Atta Bandiyal comrising Justice Aijaz Ul Ahsan, Justice Muneeb Akhtar, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Muzahir Naqvi resumed the hearing on a suo motu notice on the perceived apprehension of “persons in authority” undermining the criminal justice system.
The court also sought a report on the method of amendments in the ECL rules and summoned Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) director-general and Law Director Usman Gondal in a personal capacity with records.
“For now, the court is not nullifying the decision regarding the amendments in ECL rules,” CJP Umar Ata Bandial remarked.
Later, the court adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period.
During the hearing, the NAB prosecutor general informed the court that 174 individuals accused in NAB cases were removed from the ECL but the NAB wasn’t taken into confidence over it. He said that all the transfers of NAB had made have been cancelled. After this, NAB banned more transfers.
Moreover, the prosecutor general assured the court of having all the records preserved.
The court directed the additional attorney general to submit a certificate issued by FIA DG to assure that FIA’s record is also preserved.
Justice Ahsan remarked that the FIA DG will be responsible if the records lack anything.
During the hearing, the top judge said that the apex court will take action against anti-state steps.
“According to National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the names were removed from the ECL without the body’s approval.”
He asked Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf to read Section 2 of the ECL rules, according to which terrorists, tax defaulters and loan defaulters cannot travel out of the country.
“At whose behest did the Cabinet amend the rules pertaining to people involved in corruption and defaulters. Did the federal Cabinet approve the amendment in rules?” the CJP asked.
Responding to the question, AGP Ausaf said that he would present the minutes of the Cabinet meeting for approval.
Meanwhile, Justice Ijazul Ahsan inquired if a name would be removed from the no-travel list after 120 days on its own?
At this, the AGP replied that the rule of 120 days will be applicable after the inclusion of a name in the list.
Justice Mazahar Naqvi was of the view that the Cabinet members benefited from the amendment they approved.
“How could the Cabinet members make amendments for their personal benefit,” the judge asked.
The AGP maintained that he would find out if the members who were in the no-travel list were part of the committee that approved the amendments or not.
Justice Muneeb Akhtar said that the court knows that the federal ministers have only allegations and nothing has been proved against them.
“But is there a code under which it can be ensured that the file of the case isn’t forwarded to the same minister who is the accused in it,” he asked.
Meanwhile, Justice Mazhar observed how a minister facing allegations could make amendments to the rules to benefit himself.
“The amendments in ECL rules abolished the procedure to review. Isn’t the Cabinet’s approval for amendments a conflict of interest,” he asked.
Justice Naqvi remarked that the person whom Azam Nazeer Tarar counseled benefitted.
The judge inquired about the procedure that was adopted to amend ECL rules.
Meanwhile, during arguments over the transfers and new appointments in high-profile cases, Justice Ahsan remarked that the FIA’s report regarding the reshuffle of investigation officials in Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and son Hamza Shahbaz’s cases gave an impression that the matters are being taken non-seriously.
“The Ministry of Law suspended Sikander Zulqarnain and other FIA officials, apparently over their absence in two hearings of the case,” he observed.
At this, Justice Akhtar inquired if these hearings were held after the new government took office.
“Did you tell the FIA prosecutors that they are dismissed and they should not to appear in the hearings now,” the judge asked.
Meanwhile, CJP Bandial observed: “apparently, FIA’s prosecution team was replaced to suspend the trial.”
He said that Article 248 doesn’t exempt ministers from the criminal procedure.
“Difference in treatment of senior officials in the cases is more noticeable,” he added.
The top judge went on to say that the court’s purpose is not to expedite any trial. Instead, it wants the system to work reliably.
Justice Naqvi inquired about the progress in the cases against the prime minister and Punjab chief minister since they took office.
He asked if the prime minister has been indicted.
Responding to the query, AGP Ausaf said that indictment hasn’t been issued to the premier as yet.
He, however, said that PM Shehbaz Sharif hasn’t sought any extension.