ISLAMABAD: While Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed reports that Arshad Jalil, who is currently in China, is the majority stakeholder of Bhoja Air, confusion reigned as a number of different investigation teams popped up to investigate Friday’s fatal air crash.
The interior minister also confirmed that Farooq Bhoja, previously considered to be the airline’s owner, actually owns only 5% of the shares. Jalil, his wife, and his son Umer hold 40, 20 and 20 per cent shares, respectively.
The Jalil family as well as Bhoja and two others have been named on the Exit Control List (ECL).
“We have written to Jalil to return to Pakistan and become a part of investigations,” said Malik, speaking to reporters after chairing a meeting in Islamabad.
However, he said nothing in response to a question about the government’s action in case Jalil refuses to return voluntarily amidst pressure for compensating the families of victims, although according to sources, Jalil has reassured Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) authorities that he will return to Pakistan within two days.
Sources added that the FIA is preparing questions for the Bhoja Air owner in this regard.
Meanwhile, the Karachi division of the FIA released Farooq Bhoja after questioning. Jalil’s son, Umer, was also questioned by the FIA at the Bhoja Air office. Airline records were taken from the office by the agency in his presence.
On the other hand, a four-member inquiry team of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), headed by Group Captain (retd) Mujahidul Islam, was absent from the crash site on Sunday.
Instead, another nine-member team, headed by Group Captain (retd) Sardar Muhammad Ilyas, examined the plane’s wreckage. Ilyas is a member of CAA’s Safety and Investigation Board and was previously involved in the technical investigation of the 2010 Airblue crash on Margalla Hills.
“He is currently in the airworthiness examination side and would have visited the site for checking exactly that,” said an unnamed CAA official.
Previously, his appointment in the Safety and Investigation Board was challenged in the Sindh High Court (SHC) in February 2011, as he allegedly lacked the requisite qualification for the post.
A Koral police official said the nine-member team stayed at the site for over two hours and examined the wreckage. The official told The Express Tribune that the voice recorder of the plane was handed over to aviation officials after its recovery on Saturday.
Confusion, however, was apparent – while CAA spokesperson Pervez George said different experts could visit the site, he was uncertain who the inquiry committee had permitted to visit the site and assist. In addition to this overlap, a police team was conducting its own inquiry. A police official said they were collecting evidence from the area where the plane’s wreckage was scattered.
Another inquiry team, a judicial commission, has also been formed under the former Lahore High Court chief justice Zahid Hussain Bukhari.
“The inquiry findings will be made public and no aspect will be missed,” said Interior Minister Malik in his press conference, insisting that the overall probe into the incident was going along smoothly.
However, some CAA officials close to the inquiry said too many probes by different people would only confuse the investigation process.
‘Don’t blame govt’
The interior minister also defended the government, saying it was wrong to accuse it of involvement with the Bhoja Air administration as the company was issued a licence in 1992 under Nawaz Sharif’s government.
The airline was allowed to operate with only three planes at the time, said Malik. Based on the rules set then, the airline challenged its services’ suspension in 2001 in the court, he added. He insisted the airline’s services were resumed only after all necessary standards were met.
Meanwhile FIA authorities said that the ongoing investigation is focused on fact finding only as of now, as a criminal investigation cannot start till the report of the technical investigation is ready.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM ADIL JAWAD IN KARACHI)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2012.