The German chief executive officer of Pakistan’s national airline, Bernd Hildenbrand, has been barred from leaving the country while authorities investigate alleged corruption related to the lease of aircraft for the loss-making carrier, various media reported.
The reports said that Hildenbrand has been put on a so-called exit control list (ECL) and the nation’s anti-graft Federal Investigation Agency has been directed to probe the national carrier,
Interior Ministry spokesman Sarfraz Hussain was quoted as saying, without providing details.
Hildenbrand, who has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the leasing agreement, said he only found out about his travel ban from press reports and that nobody in the government has approached him. He said that PIA’s tenders are open and that his airline invites the media to report on them.
The investigation into the carrier and its chief executive comes as the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is trying to attract foreign investment and is shepherding about US$55 billion in loans and financing from China to fund badly needed infrastructure projects.
Butt of constant jokes
Hildenbrand, a Lufthansa veteran who was appointed CEO of PIA last year, has been accused by the government of paying too much to lease three A330s from Sri Lankan Airlines. Bloomberg quoted him as saying that “They (the Interior Ministry) don’t seem to have much understanding of the aviation leasing business so things can be explained to them. If they have doubts over my integrity they are welcome to interrogate me.”
The Sharif government has been attempting for several years to sell PIA, which has accumulated losses of more than US$3 billion and has become the butt of jokes in Pakistan due to its outdated
airplanes and poor customer service. In addition, the airline has also been battling concerns about flight safety since one of its ATR aircraft crashed in the mountainous Chitral region in
December, killing all 48 people on board. The company's chairman resigned soon after the crash.
A report in the Financial Times said that Hildenbrand has faced many challenges in turning round the loss-making state carrier, which powerful Pakistanis have long treated as their personal fiefdom, demanding free upgrades, free seats and free rooms in the carrier’s two hotels in New York and Paris.
His management style and efforts to avoid doing favours for influential people - such as hiring more employees for the overstaffed carrier - irked many in Islamabad. Mr Hildenbrand refused to “return phone calls unlike other CEOs in the past who immediately returned phone calls to members of parliament and the cabinet,” one opposition politician complained in December.
Nol van Fenema