SC directs payment of 700 Riyals to each affected pilgrim

The Supreme Court, expressing its intention to go to every extent for maintaining a transparent system in the country, directed Secretary Religious Affairs on Thursday to return 700 Riyals to each affected pilgrim within one week.

The seven-member special bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Javed Iqbal, Justice Tassadq Hussain Jillani, Justice Raja Fayyaz Ahmed, Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, Justice Ghulam Rabbani and Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday issued the directive for payment of the amount to about 26,000 affected Hajis and submission of payment schedule.

Without referring to the ongoing ‘unsatisfactory’ investigation under the supervision of Director General Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Wasim Ahmed into the Hajj scam, the bench directed him to tell the government himself that he was incapable to perform, otherwise, the court would pass an order.

He was further ordered to record statements of two witnesses in Saudi Arabia, who had approached Muhammad Azam Khan Swati, former federal minister.

At the outset of proceedings, Azam Swati, submitted a written statement through his counsel Afnan Kundi.

The Chief Justice expressed his surprise as to why the name of one of the main accused was removed from the Exit Control List.

Justice Ramday also directed the FIA DG to record statement of Minister for Interior Rehman A. Malik on the issue.

The Chief Justice expressed his dismay over the investigation process, observing that FIA DG did not know what was at stake for him for not taking interest in the case.

“He is on contract after retirement and how can he work independently?” he questioned.

The bench also castigated the FIA DG on a vague statement of Shahid, former official of the ministry.

To bench’s question, Wasim Ahmed replied that Bilal Yaseen and Imran Shah, two parliamentarians, had accused Zain Muhammad Sukaira of having a role in the corruption issue. Sukhaira evaded arrest as he had fled from the country.

He further informed the court that the two parliamentarians also blamed Rao Shakeel, former DG Hajj Operations, for embezzling Rs 200 million.

The Chief Justice told him that his faulty investigation mechanism was heading towards nowhere.

“The people have sacrificed for a transparent system and we would go to every extent to save it,” he observed.

He ordered Secretary Religious Affairs Shaukat Hayat Durrani to return 700 Riyals to each affected Haji otherwise, the apex Court would freeze their accounts.

Justice Javed Iqbal promptly pointed out that the affected pilgrims could be compensated from the pilgrims welfare funds. The hearing was adjourned till January 11.

The court had taken notice of media reports, an appeal filed by Dr Khalid Mehmood Soomro, a parliamentary committee member who visited Saudi Arabia and accused officials of the Haj Directorate of being involved in corrupt practices, complaints sent by three members of the National Assembly and two of the Senate, a letter sent to the Chief Justice by Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud alleging embezzlement and a number of applications received by Justice Ramday in person during the performance of Haj from pilgrims narrating their ordeal and complaining about corruption and mismanagement.