A subcommittee of the federal cabinet on Wednesday recommended placing PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif's name on the Exit Control List (ECL) to stop him from leaving the country while cases against him were underway.
Addressing a news conference in the federal capital, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said the cabinet would accept the recommendation soon.
The minister was accompanied by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Mirza Shahzad Akbar.
Rashid elaborated that a special meeting of the committee was held on the request of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in which Federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem participated via a video link.
He added that the committee unanimously recommended placing the name of the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly on the no-fly list.
“The PML-N president can submit an application for review within 15 days.”
NAB had sent a request to place Shehbaz's name on the ECL which was deemed to be “correct” by the three-member subcommittee of the cabinet.
After the application was received, the ministry would have to make a decision in 90 days.
“When the names of other people are placed on the ECL, then Shehbaz could not be given special treatment according to Article 25 of the Constitution,” Rashid added.
The minister explained there were three kinds of lists: the blacklist – the names for which were decided by the passport office, the provincial national identification list (PNIL) -- the names for which were decided by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and the ECL -- the names for which were decided by the federal cabinet.
He pointed out that Shehbaz himself was a guarantor of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, who was in London after his release from prison on medical grounds.
“Five members of the Sharif family are absconders,” he added.
Rashid said the committee would put the name of Shehbaz on the ECL. However, he added, the federal cabinet would ratify the committee's decision.
"We have not been told of any medical ground on which Shehbaz was leaving the country," Rashid said on Shehbaz's attempt to fly out of the country from the Lahore airport to the UK via Qatar in the early hours of Saturday, a day after the Lahore High Court granted him permission to travel abroad once for medical treatment.
However, he was barred from doing so by the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA).
The minister maintained that the PML-N president was trying to escape from the country only because of the reopening of the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case. "He [Shehbaz] chose the time of Sehri to run away knowing that the [Hudaibiya Paper Mills] case was about to be reopened,” he added.
NAB had filed the Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference in the year 2000 accusing the entire Sharif family of misappropriating Rs1.24 billion – an amount which it claimed was “unexplainable and disproportionate” to their known sources of income.
The LHC, however, quashed the reference in 2014 and NAB did not make any attempt to challenge the court verdict in the Supreme Court.
However, in September 2017, NAB finally decided to challenge the three-year-old LHC judgment in the Supreme Court, which on December 15, 2017 rejected the appeal.
NAB filed a review petition against the December 15 order which the same three-judge bench threw out on October 30, 2018.
Talking about the cases against the activists of the banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Rashid said 1,677 had been released by the interior ministry while 280 FIRs were registered against others.
“They [the booked activists] will undergo the legal process,” he explained, adding that 10,074 TLP activists had been released by courts.
Condemning the attacks by Israel on Palestine, he said the entire Muslim world condemned the atrocities against Palestinians and Kashmiris.
He said that no leader has more love for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) than Prime Minister Imran Khan. "Those criticising his visit [to the kingdom] will see the big deals and decisions he has made with the Saudi leadership."
Speaking on the occasion, PM's Adviser Akbar said an impression was being built the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case could not be reopened.
"It is the law that if any new evidence is found that was previously not part of the case, it can be reopened,” he added.
The adviser claimed that the PML-N had become an “expert at misleading” in the last few years.
“They [PML-N] are spreading the narrative that they were acquitted in the Hudaibya Paper Mills case. This is not true."
The adviser said the PML-N leaders would have been considered to be acquitted if the trial had proceeded.
“The case was closed on technical grounds,” he added.
The adviser maintained that the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case was the "mother of all money laundering cases in Pakistan".
He said the case had never gone to trial because the Sharifs "made a deal" and fled to Saudi Arabia in 2000.
The LHC decision stated that neither NAB, nor the federal government wanted to pursue the case so it was "closed on technical grounds”.
"The institution that should have appealed did not do so in time and when it did after years, the Supreme Court said the time had passed. This is why the case was closed. Factually, it has not ended."
He said the government's legal team, the attorney general as well as private lawyers believed the case could be reopened on the basis of "evidence".
Akbar said a lot of money laundering was carried out in the Qazi family's name and the “Sharif empire” was set up.
He added that other cases related to the Sharifs would also be reopened. "The case was closed but the crime exists. Because that is being opened, their attempts to flee are increasing and the government will take action on that as well."
He said the subcommittee had made the recommendation to place Shehbaz's name on the ECL because a trial against him was under way at an accountability court in Lahore.
Other cases, including the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, Chaudhry Sugar Mills case and other investigations by the FIA were also under way against Shehbaz.
"If Shehbaz was allowed to leave, all these cases would have faced delays and would be an infringement on the rights of the co-accused in the cases," he added.