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National

June 14, 2018

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Two hours of agony and ecstasy for Imran, fellows

ISLAMABAD: Granting travel permission to blacklisted Zulfi Bukhari, a close buddy of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, remains no longer a mystery.

It took a head of the party which otherwise advocated rule of law less than half an hour to mould the law to get his bosom friend out of the country. No wonder the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was enraged at Mr Khan and Ministry of Interior in the way he manoeuvred it for someone allegedly involved in a serious financial crime.

These were anxious moments for Mr Khan and company when immigration staff of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) stopped Zulfi Bokhari to fly, revealed senior officials of Ministry of Interior and FIA who dealt with the matter. FIA’s this very action stunned everyone onboard private jet supposed to carry Mr Khan and company to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) for performing Umra.

Mr Khan’s first reaction was to call a few friends whose powers are beyond all doubts and put Mr Zulfi’s issue before them, claimed the official. Mr Khan complained how his friend was being mentally tortured even though he has had done nothing wrong, they told Geo News on condition of anonymity. Then a call from the jet went to the Interior Ministry to grant Mr Zulfi one time permission. Interior Minister swung into action and called officials how to grant one-time permission to Mr Zulfi.

Senior officials advised the Interior Ministry to take input of NAB which is mandatory under the new rules set for the Exit Control List (ECL) introduced by Interior Ministry three years back. A senior official of the ministry tried to approach NAB Chairman Justice (R) Javed Iqbal on his personal phone but his number went unattended, revealed ministry officials.

Time was too short as Mr Khan and his five fellow passengers were anxiously waiting for Mr Zulfi’s one time permission. It happens for the first time that any individual who was blacklisted first and later given one time permission, said Interior Ministry officials.

Then Mr Zulfi himself called a top Interior Ministry official complaining how the ministry could put his name on ECL or blacklist as he was not involved in any case in Pakistan and travelling on a British passport. Time passed over, Zulfi Bokhari and Aleem Khan were also expressing their anger with FIA immigration staff asking them they must have intimated them earlier.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry floated the summary through secretary interior for allowing the OTP. “No special committee meeting held, NAB was never approached, nothing processed under the law — all was done in only 26 minutes,” concluded one of officials of Interior ministry who was dealing with this issue.

On Wednesday, Caretaker Prime Minister Justice (R) Nasirul Mulk sought a report over permission being granted to Bukhari. Interior Ministry sent a report to the Prime Minister’s Office to tell him how Zulfi Bukhari traveled abroad. The caretaker premier’s notice came two days after the London-based businessman was granted one-time permission by the Interior Ministry to perform Umra and return in six days despite his name being on the blacklist.

The Interior Ministry on recommendations of NAB had included Zulfi Bokhari’s name to the blacklist category which barred individuals from leaving abroad. According to sources, the report stated that persons on the blacklist are not given one time permission to travel abroad. Further, if such permission is to be considered, the Interior Ministry requires recommendations from the concerned institution. Sources add that Zulfi Bukhari’s name was placed in Category B of the blacklist and Interior Ministry sought no opinion from the NAB before letting him go abroad.

Sources further informed Geo News that NAB expressed serious concern on this move after it was not approached by Interior Ministry. Now caretaker minister after going through the report would decide next course of action, sources added. Geo News contacted Zulfi Bokhari, Interior Ministry and NAB for their exclusive version on this development but no one responded to this correspondent till filing of this story. Imran Khan's personal secretary Awn Chaudhry said Mr Zulfi is returning with them and ready to face all kind of investigation. He blamed media for fabricating stories against Mr Zulfi only for his closeness with PTI chairman.

Ayub Nasir adds: The report sent to the caretaker PM has answered NAB’s concerns. The report claims that the Ministry of Interior has the authority to allow blacklist persons to go abroad, so it allowed Bukhari to visit Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah. The report reads that Imran called the ministry and requested it to clear Zulfi, giving a guarantee that he would bring Zulfi back with him in six days. The interior secretary consulted with the caretaker interior minister, informing him that it was ministry’s prerogative to put someone on blacklist or vice versa, while those on ECL could only be cleared by the cabinet committee.

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