The government has decided to place the name of Co-Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party and former President Asif Ali Zardari along with 171 other suspects mentioned in a joint investigation team's report on the fake bank accounts case on the Exit Control List (ECL), while dropping a hint at the arrest of former president before December 31.
Addressing a press conference on Thursday, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the decision was taken during federal cabinet meeting and names of all 172 suspects, including the name of Asif Ali Zardari, will be added to the no-fly list.
Along with Zardari, his sister MNA Faryal Talpur, Omni Group's Anwar Majeed and his son Abdul Ghani Majeed, former Chairman Pakistan Stock Exchange Hussain Lawai and Senior Vice-President Summit Bank Taha Raza are among those being investigated by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for alleged money laundering through at least 29 fake accounts.
Referring to the recently submitted joint investigation team (JIT) report, the information minister said that the government means were used to launder the money. "This is not 'Purana' (old) Pakistan where the two big [players] make a deal. Now, each and every penny will be accounted for," said Chaudhry while addressing a news conference following the conclusion of the weekly cabinet meeting.
Talking about recent murder of former lawmaker Ali Raza Abidi in Karachi, the information minister said certain elements are trying to disrupt peace achieved in the financial capital of the country. "We will not allow anyone to disrupt peace in Karachi," added the minister.
The information minister further said that the activities of "South African gang" are increasing in Karachi. Chaudhry also referred to the CCTV cameras installed in the port city and said their procurement will be probed since a large amount was spent on their procurement and installation.
"Altaf Hussain's provocation and orders from England to commit murders have been witnessed here. His hate speech then went viral on social media. The UK authorities have not taken any action yet. The cabinet is concerned about this. These issues will be raised with the British government. There are South African gangs active in Karachi. It's very important that these gangs are squeezed there where they are being operated from. The Foreign Office has been directed to take up this matter with the South African government as well," said the minister.
Speaking about the incorporation of the areas formerly known as FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Chaudhry said all basic necessities will be provided to the people of the region and the government is committed to bringing the tribal areas into the mainstream. They have rendered exemplary sacrifices in the war against terror, he added.
Chaudhry said that the government has decided to extend deadline for the registration of imported mobile phones till January 15. A large number of non-compliant and smuggled mobile phone sets are active in Pakistan. Therefore, (as a onetime measure) to avoid blockage of services to individuals using such phones, the cabinet has directed PTA to regularise all phones activated in Pakistan till 15th January 2019.
After 15th January, any mobile phone set that is activated in Pakistan but it is non-compliant or non-tax paid will be deactivated after 30 days.
"After January 15, phones would still be registered but after a payment of 10 per cent of the phone's customs duty," he added.
The information minister said that the cabinet has approved the tabling of a constitutional amendment bill that would seek an extra reserved seat for women from Islamabad in both the National Assembly and Senate.
Chaudhry said that the Prime Minister commended Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood for his part in the planned conversion of the PM House into a university. In the first phase, the PM House will be renamed as 'Darul Hikma' and the place will be used for research. Whereby, it will be converted into a university later on.
The information minister said that the regulatory duty on import of newsprint is being slashed to just one per cent, which was previously 5 per cent and hoped that the benefit of the measure would be felt by working journalists. A summary to float bonds in Chinese market was also approved by the cabinet, Chaudhry said, adding that "it will be the first time in the history of Pakistan that we will enter the Chinese market."
He also confirmed that Farrukh Sabzwari has been appointed as the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). The government has decided to release all the dues (till 2019) of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), Chaudhry said. The minister claimed the people will see that unlike their predecessors, this government will turn around the one-time steel giant, which has Rs 43 billion in outstanding debts as of September 2018, according to the central bank's data.
In November last, the Economic Coordination Committee, a top government body on economic decisions, had dropped the PSM from the list of government-owned companies that were on its privatisation list.
There are about 200 public sector companies and an overwhelming majority of them are in losses because of mismanagement, operational inefficiencies, ailing infrastructure and political interventions. Collectively, these companies consumed Rs 1.3 trillion of the taxpayers' money as their total debt and liabilities rose 23.5% last year.
AFP adds: Pakistan announced Thursday it would ban former president Asif Ali Zardari from travelling abroad following allegations of money laundering, as the nation marked 11 years since his wife, prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated.
Information minister Fawad Chaudhry told reporters in Islamabad that Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur were among 172 people involved in cases of money laundering and use of fake bank accounts.
"All the 172 names ... will be added to the ECL (Exit Control List)," he said.
Zardari, co-chairman of the opposition Pakistan People's Party and who was president from 2008 until 2013, has long been the subject of corruption allegations, and is widely known in Pakistan as "Mr Ten Percent".
The announcement coincided with the 11th death anniversary of his spouse and two-time former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack during an election rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.
Earlier this week Chaudhry said a joint investigation team (JIT) had found evidence of how Zardari allegedly laundered money through fake bank accounts and companies. "I hope Zardari will now take the JIT seriously," he said Thursday, adding that his government would not spare anyone involved in plundering national wealth.
But Zardari dismissed the allegations, branding the government an instrument of the powerful military and calling Prime Minister Imran Khan the army's "blue-eyed boy" at a rally marking his wife's death in the Bhutto family's ancestral town of Larkana.
"They know nothing but how to appear on TV channels and make absurd comments and speeches. They lack even basic intelligence," he said of Khan's government in unusually fiery comments. Zardari's travel ban comes days after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to seven years in prison for corruption on Monday, the latest in a long string of court cases against him. The commission said some 600 companies and individuals "are associated with the scandal".