The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to submit details of names removed from the Exit Control List (ECL).
A five-member larger bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar heard the suo moto notice case regarding perceived apprehension of persons in authority undermining the criminal justice system.
During the course of the proceedings, the court sought a report on the method of amendments in the ECL rules and summoned the FIA director-general and Law Director Usman Gondal in a personal capacity with records. The court expressed concern over the removal of names from the ECL and questioned the procedure for doing so.
The chief justice observed that changes had been made to the ECL Rules on April 22, 2022, and the names of those involved in corruption and tax theft of Rs10 million were removed from it. Justice Ahsan asked how the change could be applied retroactively.
Justice Munib Akhtar asked whether the Cabinet Division notification about the change in rules mentioned that they could be applied to names added in the past while Justice Mazahar asked who benefited from the rules?
Justice Akhtar also observed that the approval of the change in rules by a cabinet member who was facing cases would be a conflict of interest. He asked for details of which cabinet members had benefited from the move to be submitted before the court. The chief justice said that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had said it was not consulted prior to the removal of 174 names from the ECL.
He asked Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf to read section 2 of the ECL Rules, 2010, which was related to grounds to prohibit persons from proceeding from Pakistan to a destination outside the country. He asked on whose directions did the cabinet amend the rules related to tax evaders and those suspected of corruption? The AGP said he would present the minutes of the cabinet meeting to approve the changes.
Justice Ahsan asked whether names would automatically be removed from the ECL after 120 days, to which the attorney general replied in the affirmative.
Justice Naqvi observed that cabinet members had also benefited from the rules. He asked how could they introduce amendments for their personal benefit?
Justice Akhtar questioned whether there was a mechanism whereby a minister facing a case would not receive a related file.
Justice Ahsan asked whether such changes could be brought about through a circulation summary. He said it was the cabinet’s duty to decide after reviewing each case.
NAB’s Prosecutor Hassan Akbar said that the names of 174 individuals were placed on the ECL on NAB’s recommendations. The bureau was not informed when their names were removed from the ECL, he added.
The Attorney General said that Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar had proposed amending the ECL rules. Justice Naqvi remarked that the person Tarar was representing in court had benefited from it.
Chief Justice said that the court would not declare the government’s decisions regarding the ECL null and void. He said that the court did not want to interfere with the affairs of the administration. The apex court would act on actions against the state, he added. Later, the court adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period.