Saif admits to pressuring Jang group

Vows to pursue cases of tax evasion

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: While admitting to having issued 'instructions' to the Jang Group on almost all the points mentioned in the advertisement "War on Jang" published by the group on Monday , chairman Ehtesab Bureau Saifur Rehman categorically declined to swear an oath at Faisal Mosque about his role in taming the press.

He, however, denied that at any point of time he had asked the Jang Group administration to sack 16 journalists and replace them with "our people." Visibly disturbed over publication of an advertisement carrying his photograph and facts about issuing diktat to country's largest group of newspapers, Saif said he would not be apologetic about issuing directives on certain matters to the Jang Group, as his boss, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, wanted the national press to support him and his policies.

He was addressing a press conference on Monday at his office following a national seminar "The Government and the Press--Face toFace" organised by the Jang Group on the occasion of seventh death anniversary of its founder, Mir Khalil-ur-Rehman. Mr Saif was accused of issuing the following diktat: sack 16 journalists and replace them with our people! If your journalists do not behave, let me know. I have the right medicine for them. I can have them picked up.

Or else...; don't print anything against Shariah Bill (CA-15); judicial system is to be changed, support us on the cases where the courts are ruling against us. Also on Karachi situation. Or else...; do not print anything regarding the ruling family's loans, tax arrears, business and private affairs! Or else...; We will expect your unconditional support on issues as well and we will give you directions whenever such support is required. Or else...

Senator Saif also issued two documents about the Jang Group's allegation: Facts and Fictions; and Facts on Jang/News Group vilification campaign against Senator Saif-ur Rehman Khan. In these two documents, he has repeated what he or the government has been saying for long. The Jang Group and chief editor of Jang/The News, Mir Shakil-ur Rehman, has already termed it a "pack of lies."

Declining to accept the challenge to swear an oath at the Faisal Mosque, Mr Saif gave a counter-proposal involving family members of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman to swear an oath at the grave of founder of Jang Group, Mir Khalil-ur-Rehman, to prove each others' allegations and counter-allegations. "Its not a war on Jang but a simple case of tax evasion, and we will press ahead with it," threatened Rehman adding "it is not a problem between the government and the press, as he has unearthed cases of tax evasion by the Jang Group."

He said the Jang Group has made it an issue after the income tax department moved against it. "The government has not accepted the demands of the group, despite meetings between the two-member government team and a delegation of APNS," he added. He said the Jang Group was asked to to "behave" in order to strengthen government's hands in its endeavour to reform society and enforce Shariah. "We have told them not to publish negative stories, as it creates stir in the masses and hits the stock market."

Rehman, who claimed that nothing wrong and illegal was done against the group, said some stories published in the newspapers of the Jang Group had created problems for the government, and even on Eidul Fitr one story carrying predictions of somebody was an attempt to provoke the people of Karachi. He said the government would welcome "healthy and constructive criticism", and not the stories which created problems for the government. "We have done nothing wrong."

We are pursuing cases of corruption and catching the big fish, in line with prime minister's directives to uproot corruption. "The group has to pay around Rs2. 6 billion in taxes and duties. We have done our work on merit." When asked, he said concession could be granted to the Jang Group by pending recovery of taxes from 6 to 7 months, but the group should cooperate with the government. "The Jang Group is pursuing a political agenda to evade taxes."

He also claimed that some accounts of the group were unfrozen for paying salaries to the employees, and newsprint was released from time to time. He said the Jang Group has launched 5-day advertisement campaign against the government at a cost of around Rs15 million. "There will be no use of fighting with us. We should settle it through negotiations," said Rehman, "We have not yet conducted any raid, but because of the power we have, raids can be conducted on the Jang Group."

He said his efforts to uproot corruption and arrest those involved in corruption have been successful as, so far, he has traced Rs2,000 crore of Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari in foreign banks. "We expected these people to criticise us, but we will continue to do it." Senator Rehman said it was not his problem but he was dragged in because of tax evasion. "The tax evasion cases are only against the Jang Group and nobody else."

He said he found no solid reason of launching a campaign against him. "The Jang Group can exercise its legal option if it thinks the government has done anything wrong." He also objected to publication of a story from a British paper about alleged purchase of property by the prime minister in London. He stressed the need for a Press Council to look into all such cases. "The media is extremely powerful, but we have taken on them in some cases for which notices have already been served."

The News International Pakistan