SC tells Arshad Malik to choose either PIA or PAF

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Tauseef Abbasi

Islamabad

The Supreme Court on Thursday declared Air Marshal Arshad Mehmood Malik’s appointment as head of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) “illegal”, saying he could not hold two posts at the same time.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed asked Malik to choose between serving in the Pakistan Air Force or as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PIA.

Earlier, on January 21, the SC had rejected Malik’s appeal against the Sindh High Court’s decision to stop him from performing any functions as CEO of the national airline until a final decision in the present case is made.

“Arshad Mehmood Malik should resign from the air force and permanently join PIA. Only one thing can be done, either work in PAF or PIA,” remarked the chief justice.

The court noted that the national airline required a “permanent chairman” who can run it along professional lines and make it profitable.

The court asked Malik to submit a definite answer by the next hearing which will be in the first week of March.

When Salman Akram Raja, representing the PIA’s board of governors told the court that former Air Marshal Nur Khan had also worked for the national carrier, the chief justice remarked that “they were big people and should not be compared to anyone”.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah said that if the court accepted the advocate’s argument, stating that if “the union employees would not let PIA function unless there was the stick of the army”, then the government “should close all its offices”.

The SC also rejected PIA’s report about the mysterious sale of an Airbus plane owned by the national flag carrier in 2017, observing that it had only conducted a “paper investigation” into the matter.

The court directed the National Accountability Bureau to continue its investigation into how the plane was sold.

The mysterious sale of the PIA plane had caught the attention of the SC on Feb 13 when it questioned whether the sale of the aircraft — a public property — amounted to a national offence or not.

PIA’s counsel Salman Akram Raja said an earlier decision to sell an aircraft was taken by then CEO Bernd Hildenbrand when the court asked for details of the sale.

“The plane was used for a movie shoot in Malta before being parked at a German airport. We were paid €210,000 for it.”

The chief justice termed ‘grave’ the reports of the plane being lent to an Israel production company. He also noted that the cost of flying and parking the plane in Germany exceeded its selling price. Raja told the apex court that the PIA board was reviewing why the plane was parked at a German airport for so long.

Justice Gulzar remarked that the national carrier had grounded four planes and details of three were still missing. “Should we allow the current management to operate in such a scenario?” he observed and added that PIA transactions only exist on paper.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) informed the bench that the PIA board was concealing details regarding the missing plane and sought time to further probe the matter. Emphasising on the bureau’s repetitive request to seek time, the top judge directed it to continue the investigation.