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Inquiry launched against Shujaat Azeem over PIA losses but there’s more to the chaos

Shujaat Azeem
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The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, has ordered the National Accountability Bureau to file a reference against former aviation chief, Shujaat Azeem, over a case related to the financial loss borne by the Pakistan International Airlines.

The top judge also ordered the concerned authorities to place Shujaat Azeem’s name on the Exit Control List, effectively barring him from leaving the country. During the hearing of this case, the Chief Justice directly referred to the former aviation czar and questioned him on the reasons behind the failure of the national flag carrier, comparing his ‘poor’ performance with his successor, Sardar Mehtab Abbasi.

The top judge made the remarks after a thorough presentation by the economist, Farrukh Saleem, who informed the bench that PIA has suffered a total loss of Rs360 billion since 2008 to 2017, for multiple reasons. The crux of PIA’s losses is based on the airline’s disproportionate expenditure as compared to its generated revenue. Besides other factors like the political influence and association policy, Saleem also apprised the judicial bigwigs that the airline had purchased several spare parts of planes in 1990, which have not been used to this day.

Apart from the shady A-310 deal, Hildenbrand was also mulling sale of six engines for which he had signed an agreement of 1,70,000 Dollars, however, the agreement stood null and void when he got sacked.

Interestingly, at one end PIA was suffering losses while on the other end, it distributed as much as 287,000 tickets in a single year i.e 2013. The per day count of ticket distribution comes out to be 786, due to which it faced a loss of Rs 5 billion.

Read more: Not so fast: SC stops government from selling off PIA

Shujaat Azeem’s Role

Shujaat Azeem is at the core of PIA’s controversy, however, he is not the only one to have steered the department. Azeem was appointed as the Prime Minister’s Aviation Adviser as well as a Special Assistant on Aviation during the incumbent stint of ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz. However, he faced the ire of Supreme Court, both the times.

In 2015, he resigned as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Aviation, after being barred from participating in affairs of the aviation division by the Supreme Court, on a petition filed by the pilots’ union. Moreover, he had to leave the office of Prime Minister’s Aviation Adviser in 2013 after the apex court raised concerns about his dual nationality and court-martial history.

Azeem is not an unknown figure in the aviation fraternity as he left the country after facing a court-martial and started his business. Another distinction about him is that he became captain of the private aircraft of Lebanese tycoon-turned-Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. Although he is the brother of Tariq Azeem, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Canada, his association with Nawaz Sharif started after the bloodless coup of General Pervez Musharraf, the former military head.

The top judge made the remarks after a thorough presentation by the economist, Farrukh Saleem, who informed the bench that PIA has suffered a total loss of Rs360 billion since 2008 to 2017, for multiple reasons.

Shujaat Azeem came closer to Nawaz Sharif as he helped the latter, move out of the country, due to his close ties with Hariri. But the former aviation head was reportedly working on an honorary position for two years and did not receive a salary. Moreover, the position occupied by him lasted for around two years only. The PIA episode also involves other corporate executives, who have been enjoying the perks but failed to give back to the flag carrier. Among the recent officials of PIA, who played a dubious role, the most noticeable executive is Bernd Hildenbrand, the former Chief Executive Officer of PIA.

Hildenbrand had gone on leave but was removed from the post in August 2017 and interestingly, his name was struck off the ECL by former Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in response to a letter from the Foreign Office. The German citizen not only evaded the probe but also took with him, PIA’s A-310 plane, which had been chartered by a British company for a film in Malta. Hildenbrand ‘s appointment was also termed a mistake by the incumbent aviation Adviser, Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, who revealed before a Senate committee in March this year, that the said official sold A-310 merely for 47,000 euro, which translates to Rs 6.3 million Pakistani Rupees.

Read more: CJP orders PIA MD’s to be placed on ECL

Apart from the shady A-310 deal, Hildenbrand was also mulling sale of six engines for which he had signed an agreement of 1,70,000 Dollars, however, the agreement stood null and void when he got sacked. Another blunder committed by the incumbent regime, that inflicted a heavy loss on PIA, is the premier service, which was launched in 2016, however, it was shut down in March, the following year. Launched in haphazard, the service caused a total loss of Rs 2.1 billion in the first four months. And the A-330, acquired on a lease was finally returned to Sri Lanka when Azeem was not at the helm of affairs.

In essence, a thorough investigation will reveal the black hats involved in financial misappropriation of the flag carrier, though the practice can start from bringing Shujaat Azeem under the radar.


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