–Chief Justice Nisar warns PTI govt in Centre against toppling PPP govt in Sindh, asks it to review ECL decision
–Zardari, Bilawal and Shah miss court hearing, Malik Riaz claims Icon Tower was planned in Musharraf’s tenure
–CJP says ‘will try’ to wind up case by Jan 15, two days before he retires from office
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday warned the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) against toppling the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in Sindh and directed the federal cabinet to review its decision of placing the names of 172 individuals on the Exit Control List (ECL) in the fake accounts case.
A two-member Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, is hearing the long-running mega money laundering and fake bank accounts case. This was the first hearing of the case since a joint investigation team (JIT) that was formed to probe the case submitted its report to the top court last week.
Justice Nisar expressed anger at the placement of names on the no-fly list and ordered that the interior minister, who ordered to place the names on ECL, should appear before the court “within 15 minutes”.
“Why were the names placed on the ECL,” Justice Nisar asked officials.
The JIT probing the money laundering case has held the Zardari Group, Omni Group and Bahria Town responsible in its report submitted to the apex court last Monday. The report had also suggested that all the suspects in the case be placed on the ECL.
In view of the JIT findings, the federal government on Friday released a list of 172 suspects whose names were placed on the no-fly list. The list included PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto, party’s Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, presidents of a number of local banks, and other former ministers, bureaucrats and businessmen.
Irked at the government’s move, the chief justice wondered how all these individuals could be barred from flying.
“How can the chief executive of the country’s second-biggest province be put on the ECL?” Justice Nisar asked the attorney general.
“We had summoned replies from [these individuals], but the government placed them on the ECL,” the top judge remarked.
“[What if] the next name on the ECL is that of the NAB chairman? Tomorrow your name [could] be added too!” Justice Nisar stated in his remarks to the attorney general.
He suggested that four ministers’ names could be placed on the list to “balance the matter”.
“Who did this?” the judge asked, to which the attorney general replied that he would look into the matter.
The attorney general claimed that names were placed on ECL due to the recommendations of the JIT probing the case, and the head had expressed his reservations in a letter.
“This confusion has been created by the JIT,” he said.
Justice Nisar remarked that this was a wrong precedent as names should not be placed on the list based upon a letter from the team. What if the prime minister needs the chief minister to travel with him to Turkey? he questioned.
“We will look into it ourselves,” Justice Nisar remarked.
State prosecutor Faisal Siddiqui informed the court that the JIT has “limited authority” and it is outside its mandate to recommend someone for arrest or to suggest that a corruption reference is filed against them.
He revealed that the investigative team has given recommendations in 16 cases and it was recommended that NAB should investigate further before filing a reference.
To this, the top judge remarked that the JIT had exceeded its mandate by writing recommendations in its letter, as it contained the “point of view” of the JIT head and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). He also pointed out that the court has yet to give its ruling on the findings of the report.
Later when the Sindh advocate general appeared in court, he said that the provincial chief minister “did not even know that investigation against him was underway”.
The attorney general claimed that Shah was never summoned and requested the court to take his name off ECL. The chief justice responded that Shah could lodge a request with the court if he has to travel somewhere, but the decision to place his name on the no-fly list will be reviewed by the federal cabinet.
Justice Nisar then reprimanded the JIT head, and questioned why the provincial chief minister’s name needed to be placed on the list controlling international mobility. The JIT head responded that the decision was “not based upon designation, but his character” and claimed that the team had requested placement of suspects’ names on the ECL with “bonafide intentions”.
Dissatisfied with the attorney general’s response, the chief justice summoned “those responsible for placing suspects’ names on the no-fly list” by 11:30 am.
As the hearing resumed, Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi appeared in court. The court addressed rumours pertaining to the PTI government’s intentions to “topple PPP government in Sindh” and imposing governor’s rule in the province and threatened Afridi that democracy must not be disturbed in the province.
The chief justice demanded the federal government issue a clear statement in this regard, questioning how governor’s rule could be instated “without properly understanding the situation at hand”.
Then, he asserted that the court had not let democracy be sabotaged even when there were threats in the past. He told the state interior minister to “tell your elders that this country will be run by the Constitution”, instructing him to take the matter to the federal cabinet for review.
DISCUSSION OF SUB-JUDICE MATTERS ON MEDIA:
He was also angry at the comments about the JIT report being made on media: “We should send this case to the media then. They can review it.”
The chief justice also condemned “ministers who appear on television to give their analysis on the issue” and questioned if it was even their concern, since “their job is to perform legislation”.
Moreover, he said that “everyone is creating a ruckus over the matter when the court hasn’t even issued any orders over the report”.
He asked for video clippings of news analysis and reports on the JIT report to be produced before the court.
The director general of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was also summoned to explain why “the SC’s orders were not being followed” as the court has prohibited the discussion of sub-judice matters on media.
BILAWAL, ZARDARI & MURAD MISS HEARING:
The court had ordered Nimr Majeed, business tycoon Malik Riaz and his son-in-law Zain Malik to appear before the court on Monday.
As the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Bahria Group, Malik Riaz appeared in court, the top judge questioned: “Why your name appears everywhere [in cases]?”
Riaz replied that since he works in Pakistan, his name is bound to pop up. Justice Nisar reprimanded him that he is working with people who have been named in the money laundering case. However, Riaz justified that Bahria Town’s Icon tower, the project considered “controversial” in the JIT report, was commissioned in 2005, during the tenure of former dictator (r) Pervez Musharraf.
Then, the chief justice said that the matter should be sent to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Zardari, Bilawal and Sindh CM Shah decided not to appear before the court. Moreover, Zardari’s counsel Latif Khosa told the court that Farooq H Naek, another member of the legal team has also excused himself from appearing in court.
He told the court that Naek, who is Zardari’s counsel, is now a suspect in the case in light of the JIT report.
The chief justice denied the request. However, later, when Naek appeared in court, he requested the court to grant him another week to submit a reply as he is “mentally distressed” because his name has been put on ECL as well.
The court accepted his request and told him that “no one is stopping you”. However, the chief justice added that he should tell his client that justice will be served.
The court then instructed him to submit a reply by the end of the week. The chief justice added that the court will get rid of the “false impression of Zardari and Faryal Talpur” created by the media due to their response to the report.
A ‘fake call’ attributed to Latif Khosa is also to be probed. The court will reach upon a decision after reviewing the joint investigative report.
Moreover, the apex judge declared his intention to try to wind up the case by January 15 as he retires on the 17th of the same month.
The hearing was then adjourned till January 7.
The JIT, in its report submitted last week, claimed that a close nexus had between found between the Zardari, Bahria Town and Omni groups. The report revealed that at least 29 bank accounts had been identified as fake which had been used for money laundering of Rs42 billion.
The JIT had probed 11,500 bank accounts of 924 individuals and companies associated with the fake accounts, the report said.
It also revealed that kickbacks of Rs1.36bn had been laundered through bank accounts of 19 contractors. Similarly, Rs10.2bn had been laundered through accounts of Bahria Town that were allegedly being maintained by Zain and Mushtaq Ahmad, a former secretary of former president Zardari.
A JIT member informed the bench that Ahmad was also involved in model Ayyan Ali’s money laundering case.
The case was initially registered in 2015 against former Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE) chairman Hussain Lawai, who is widely believed to be close to former president Zardari.
Besides the ex-president and his sister, real estate tycoon Malik Riaz’s son-in-law Zain Malik and 14 other bankers and businessmen have been booked in the case pertaining to alleged laundering of Rs4.14 billion through 29 ‘fake’ bank accounts, while Hussain Lawai, Taha Raza, Anwar Majeed and Abdul Ghani Majeed have been detained for their alleged involvement in facilitating the transactions.
Investigations so far have revealed that several ‘benami’ accounts at some private banks were opened in 2013, 2014 and 2015 from where transactions worth billions of rupees were made.
The amount, according to the FIA, is said to be black money gathered from various kickbacks, commissions and bribes.