Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Umar Ata Bandial expressed concern on Friday over the cabinet’s decision to amend exit-control list (ECL) rules, which led to the removal of the names of ‘tax defaulters, those involved in corruption’ from the list.
“At whose behest were corrupt individuals, tax defaulters, loan defaulters, and those involved in terrorist activities allowed to travel abroad,” inquired the CJP during the hearing of a suo motu case pertaining to pereceived interfered by people in authority to undermine the criminal justice system.
The CJP was heading a five-member larger bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Muneeb Akhtar, and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar.
The suo motu notice was taken on May 18 following allegations by the PTI that the government transferred officials to influence graft cases against the holders of high offices including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz.
The CJ asked the additional advocate general to read the ECL Rule, 2010, which stated that people involved in corruption and terrorism cases, as well as those who defaulted on taxes and loans, were not permitted to travel abroad.
“At whose request has the federal cabinet amended the rules and given its assent to change them?”
The names of the accused had been removed from the ECL without consulting the National Accountability Bureau, the chief justice remarked.
Justice Naqvi inquired about the procedure that was used to amend the ECL rules. The court acknowledged that federal ministers were facing allegations of corruption and not convicted.
The chief justice remarked that Article 248 of the Constitution does not provide immunity to the cabinet members and they are liable to be prosecuted in criminal cases.
In this regard, Justice Ahsan inquired whether approval could be sought through a circulation summary. “It is the cabinet’s responsibility to investigate each and every case before making a decision,” the judge remarked.
The court asked to present a list of everyone whose names had been removed from the ECL before the court.
The additional attorney general informed the court that Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar had proposed changes to the ECL Rules.
CJ Bandial directed that a report detailing the method used by the government to amend the ECL Rules be submitted to the court.
The bench expressed dissatisfaction over the removal of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) prosecutor Sikander Zulqarnain, who was pursuing a money laundering case against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
“There is an impression that the prosecutor was removed in order to halt the ongoing trial,” observed the chief justice.
The bench was also alarmed by the cabinet’s decision regarding “the removal of hundreds of accused names from the ECL”.
The bench has sought a report on the method of amendments in the ECL rules and summoned Federal Investigation Agency’s Law Director Usman Gondal.
“Is it not a conflict of interest for the cabinet to amend the rules when the names of the cabinet members themselves are in the ECL?” he asked.
“For now the court is not nullifying the decision regarding the amendments in ECL rules,” CJ Bandial remarked.
The hearing has been adjourned for an indefinite period.