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April 9, 2018

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FIA in action as CJ takes notice of PIA affairs

LAHORE: As Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of the affairs of Pakistan International Airline (PIA), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) acted promptly by sending two questionnaires to the chairman of the national flag carrier, seeking response from the officials concerned on two pending high-profile cases by April 12, The News has learnt.

The FIA’s Lahore office has been probing PIA officials for over one year and a half regarding two matters —the sale of PIA’s aircraft A-310 to Germany for peanuts (Euros 47,500) and acquisition of planes on Wet Lease at exuberant rates, allegedly causing a loss of around Rs3 billion to PIA.

Sources said the FIA sent two questionnaires to PIA Chairman Irfan Elahi on Friday (April 6), asking him to serve one of them to the former PIA Director Procurement and Logistics Department Air Commodore Imran Akhtar (retd) and the other to PIA Board of Directors (BoD) to get their responses about the allegations they have been facing. The FIA had earlier, through the Ministry of Interior, served a similar questionnaire to Imran Akhtar in September 2017 but it was not responded to.

Besides PIA’s former acting chief executive officer (CEO) Hildenbrand Bernd, Imran Akhtar, the brother of former Inter-Services Intelligence Director General Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar (retd), is accused of the sale of plane to Germany.

Soon after the News broke that a PIA plane in flying condition has been sold to a German firm at even lower than its current Written Down Value (latest re-valued on December 31, 2015) of around $4,726,792 (Rs544.944 million at the current exchange rate) and even lower than the scrap value of around $603,416 (Rs69.69 million), the PIA Board had formed a two-member inquiry committee which found Imran Akhtar and Bernd guilty of the plane sale.

Bernd, a German national, left the country for a 15-day leave with the promise that he would return to Pakistan to face the charges against him, but he didn’t.

The PIA committee had also pointed out in its findings that though the A-310 aircraft had been handed over to the German company for Euro 47,500 (Rs6.7 million at current exchange rate), no payment was received in cash, rather it was to be settled through marketing and support expense whenever PIA designs a route to Leipzig where the aircraft is currently present. PIA does not operate any routes to Leipzig currently.

After the audit report was exclusively reported by The News, Air Cdre Imran Akhtar and his 13-men team were repatriated back to the PAF in April last year. All of them had joined PIA on deputation a couple of years back.

The FIA has asked Imran Akhtar, through the questionnaire, that in what capacity he had allowed a PIA plane for shooting in a pro-Israeli movie in Malta in 2016. The PIA had charged Euros 210,000 (Rs29.7 million) for 15 days.

The FIA has asked Imran to explain how he along with Bernd negotiated and finalized the alleged illegal deal of plane sale to Leipzig against a price of Euros 47,500 (Rs 6.7 million).

The FIA has also asked Imran Akhtar to explain as to why he sold the plane at a throw-away price when according to PIA’s own documents the Book Value of the plane was $3.5 million in January 2016. The FIA has also asked the former air commodore to explain why no amount could be received in cash and instead it was agreed upon that the amount would be settled in future engagements between PIA and Leipzig authorities regarding Karachi-Leipzig-New York route which was never in the plan of the PIA.

Similarly, the FIA has asked the PIA chairman to serve a questionnaire to PIA BoD which approved the alleged controversial deal of acquiring planes on Wet Lease from Sri Lanka for PIA’s Premier Service during their meeting on July 13, 2016.

The FIA had written twice to the PIA chairman on October 23, 2017 and November 14, 2017 to get response from the BoD through such notices but to no avail. The third notice was served on April 6, 2018.

The BoD at that time included the then PIA chairman (late) Azam Sehgal, Muhammad Arif Habib, Malik Nazir Ahmad, Atif Aslam Bajwa, Syed Yawar Ali, Aslam Khaliq, Yousaf Waqar, Ghayas ud Din, Muhammad Irfan Elahi, Secretary Aviation Division (ex-officio member) and Dr Waqar Masood Khan, Secretary Finance (ex-officio member).

During its initial probe into the Wet Lease issue, the FIA has calculated a loss of around Rs3 billion to the PIA. Through the questionnaire, the FIA has asked the BoD members to explain why they went ahead with the deal when it had been pointed out that the national flag carrier could suffer a huge financial loss on direct operating cost per aircraft per three months. Due to this deal, the PIA had to suffer a loss of Rs 1.57 billion on an aircraft over a period of three months. A loss of an almost equal amount was suffered when the BoD approved the deal for another term of three months.

Talking to The News on Saturday, Federal Secretary Aviation Division and PIA Chairman Irfan Elahi said that as soon he received letter from the FIA he would surely forward it to the BoD for their response.

To a question, Mr Irfan said that as far as his knowledge was concerned, the retired air commodore Imran Akhtar did respond to a PIA show-cause notice about the plane sale issue. “I don’t know whether Imran has responded to FIA or not on the same matter but definitely I will forward him the questionnaire of FIA for his response to the allegations”, the chairman PIA said.

To a question, the chairman made it clear that the PIA management could only take departmental actions against the accused officials, if any, while it is for the FIA to act if criminal charges are proved against any of them.

Talking to The News, FIA Director General Bashir Ahmed Memon confirmed that there are certain ‘procedural delays’ in the investigation against the PIA officials in question. To a question, the DG claimed that there was no pressure whatsoever on FIA while probing the brother of former spymaster, saying, “Probe against Imran Akhtar took a while as we have to write through different offices to reach him being a PAF official.”

Now he is a retired personnel and FIA would reach him soon for his response, Mr Memon said, adding if the accused avoids responding to FIA then law will take its own course. Talking to The News on Saturday Imran Akhtar claimed that FIA never approached him as yet to get his response. To a question, he claimed that National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has investigated the issue and he submitted his response to them. When asked would he respond to the FIA queries, the retired air commodore remarked, “I’m not answerable to the entire country.”

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