Pak to file libel case against British tabloid



Islamabad: Pakistan on Wednesday decided to file a libel case against British tabloid, The Sun, seeking Rs 10 billion in damages for publishing a "false story" about how terrorists could have obtained fake Pakistani passports and joined the country's team for the London Olympic Games.

The decision to file the libel case in a British court was made at a meeting of the federal cabinet chaired this afternoon by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

The cabinet thoroughly discussed the issue of the visa scam and decided to take legal action against The Sun, officials said.

The Interior Secretary, chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the director general of the Passport Department briefed the cabinet on the issue.

Officials described the British tabloid's report on the passport scam as "false propaganda".

"The cabinet ordered NADRA to file a defamation suit (against The Sun) after consulting the Law Ministry," Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told the media after the cabinet meeting.

He said "dirty propaganda was unleashed against Pakistan" and that the tabloid "does not have a good reputation".

Official sources said a lawsuit seeking Rs 10 billion in damages would be filed in a British court.

The cabinet ordered the Federal Investigation Agency to halt its probe into the passport scam in light of the decision to file a lawsuit.

Before the cabinet meeting, a special investigation team formed by Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik to probe the matter had arrested 11 people, including officials of NADRA and the passport department and employees of a Lahore-based travel agency.

In a message posted on Twitter, Malik said: "No mercy in this passport scandal. All those involved in this passport/NADRA scam/conspiracy shall be booked and be brought to justice".

He said in another message that the investigation team comprising representatives of the FIA, NADRA and ISI had been "ordered to investigate the facts and to identify the real culprits in this racket".

The investigation will also ascertain if there was any "conspiracy/sting (operation) against Pakistan", Malik said in another message.

NADRA Chairman Tariq Malik said the tabloid's expose centred round a man named Mohammad Ali Asad, who had renewed his national identity card on July 10 and subsequently obtained a new passport.

"Since the same person applied to renew his own ID card and for provision of a passport, nothing illegal was done," he said.

Earlier, The Sun reported its journalist had infiltrated a criminal ring that offered false passports, visas and access to the 2012 London Olympics as "bogus support staff" of the Pakistani team.

The ring provided its undercover reporter a genuine Pakistani passport in a false name, the tabloid claimed.

According to the tabloid, the scam centred round Lahore-based Dream Land travel agency and a politician named Abid Chodhary, who claimed he could get a two-month visa and smuggle a person into the games as part of Pakistan's Olympic squad for 7,000 pounds. Meanwhile, The Sun reported that nearly 100 suspects had been arrested following its report this week.

The tabloid today quoted Mohammad Anwar Virk, head of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency, as saying: "We have arrested dozens of suspects and will interrogate them to get access to the mafia leaders. There are hints some of the accused might be affiliated with terror groups".

He added: "The main aim is to find terror contacts. It will be a bigger issue than it is now if terror links are found. We are investigating the terror links and the human smuggling aspect".

Several "ringleaders" were on the run, the tabloid reported, and added that Abid Chodhary, the politician who offered The Sun undercover man a dodgy visa plus a letter confirming he was part of Pakistan's Olympic entourage for 7,000 pounds had vanished from his home.

Staff at the Dream Land travel agency, who put The Sun in touch with corrupt passport officials, had also fled, it reported.

PTI