Pakistan bars German head of national airline PIA from leaving country

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The Pakistani government has barred the German boss of government owned national airline from leaving the country, as the authorities began an investigation on allegations of corruption in a plane-lease contract.

“We have ordered an investigation in reports of corruption in PIA (Pakistan International Airlines)” said a senior official from the prime minister’s office who spoke to the Financial Times on Friday, reports Farhan Bokhari.

A PIA official separately told the FT, Bernd Hildenbrand, chief executive officer of PIA was “ready to defend himself. The CEO insists he hasn’t done any thing improper”.

The case against Mr Hildenbrand, who is the first foreign national to head the airline, was prompted by allegations PIA paid a signified higher amount for lease of aircrafts from a foreign airline to run its services than options available in the international market.

The government’s order against Mr Hildenbrand has placed him on the ‘ECL’ or Exit Control List – a list of individuals facing criminal charges who are barred from leaving Pakistan.

PIA has been increasingly under the spotlight since December when one of its ATR aircrafts crashed in northern Pakistan with 48 people on board.

The crash was followed by demands from opposition leaders and the public for a full investigation into safety standards of PIA. Controversy was further fuelled when it was reported that one of PIA’s aircrafts flew to Saudi Arabia with seven passengers on board who traveled without seats and remained standing throughout their journey.

Analysts say, PIA’s quality of service has increasingly become compromised over time as it has run in to recurring losses.

“PIA used to be looked upon by other airlines once as an example of a successful air carrier. Over time it has become politicized and its performance has worsened” Yasin Lakhani, a former chairman of the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE), Pakistan’s main stock market told the FT.

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