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piątek, 22 kwietnia 2011

Hajj on state expense: Saudi king pays for 448 pilgrims

Following SC orders, money was to be recovered from the ‘freeloading’ pilgrims. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE
Saudi Arabia has given Rs30 million to pay off the expenses of people who performed Hajj using Pakistani taxpayers’ money, saving them the trouble and expense of doling out the money from their pockets in compliance with theSupreme Court’s directive.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik had presented the pilgrims’ quandary to Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud when he was in Islamabad on a short visit last month, according to close associates. The Saudi monarch deposited the money at Malik’s request, they revealed.
Riyadh came to the rescue of 448 pilgrims, who performed Hajj free of cost in 2009 and 2010, and paid Rs30 million in charity to the government of Pakistan, Religious Affairs Secretary Shaukat Hayat Durrani told The Express Tribune. The Saudi Embassy spokesperson Saleh al Mugheri said that the officials concerned are in the loop and the Ministry of Religious Affairs would confirm the story.
The Supreme Court had directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to recover money from pilgrims who had performed Hajj free of charge on the Interior Ministry’s invitation within a week. Malik Riaz Hussain of Bahria town, and former deputy speaker National Assembly Haji Nawaz Khokar had deposited around Rs6 million in the government exchequer for the pilgrims.
“We will inform the apex court that the Religious Affairs Ministry has paid off its dues,” said Durrani. The apex court is conducting the hearing of the Hajj scam case on Friday after taking suo motu notice of the issue on the request of the Saudi Prince and the affected pilgrims last year.
The issue of free Hajj surfaced during investigations into the Hajj scam last year. The irregularities cost two federal ministers their jobs this year. During the course of investigation, FIA questioned Premier Gilani’s son, Federal Minister for Railways, former state minister for religious affairs, real estate tycoon, Malik Riaz Hussain and other prominent personalities to unearth irregularities.
Investigations are underway to expose the people involved in committing irregularities, including Hajj and Umrah Agents. Former federal minister for religious affairs Hamid Saeed Kazmi and a number of officials have been arrested and are being interrogated by investigators.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2011

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