— Former president submits reply in court, says JIT report violates his right to fair trial
–PPP co-chairman criticises PTI govt, says it is incapable of running govt
LAHORE/BADIN: Former president Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday denied all the claims made about the Zardari Group in a joint investigation team (JIT) report submitted to the Supreme Court in an ongoing case pertaining to alleged money laundering of billions of rupees through fake bank accounts.
In a fresh report submitted to the court on Saturday, the JIT had recommended freezing all the assets of the former president, his sister Faryal Talpur along with the Omni Group. The JIT counsel had accused that the Zardari and Omni group amassed wealth through misappropriation of govt funds, kickbacks and crime proceeds.
It may be noted here that the government has already placed 172 suspects, including Zardari, named in the JIT report on the Exit Control List (ECL).
In a 17-page-long written reply submitted to the SC on Sunday, Asif Ali Zardari denied any wrongdoing and said the report was leaked to malign him.
“The statements recorded by witnesses and the documents [accompanying them] were not provided to us,” the former president said in his reply, calling it a violation of Article 10A. The said article guarantees a right to fair trial.
In his reply, the PPP co-chairman requested the court to dismiss the JIT’s reports, contending that the leaking of the second JIT report prior to its submission in court is against the sanctity of the court.
The reply also argued that the JIT is being used as an instrument by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government to humiliate Zardari and Faryal Talpur.
According to the reply, the JIT does not have the right to suggest that the matter should be sent to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and if the court orders the move upon the JIT’s suggestion, it will also be against Article 10A.
‘GOVT CAN’T PERFORM’:
Meanwhile addressing a rally in Badin, the former president said that the PTI government did not know how to run the country. “Why choose to do a job which you cannot [do]?” Zardari took a jibe at the government.
“Even a mango garden cannot be prepared in five years, how will you [change] the country in five years?” he added.
“Accuse me all you like. Bring forward not one but 50 cases against us. It doesn’t affect me or the public. We will continue the fight.”
“We know what the public wants. That’s why they vote for us. Our fight is for the truth and democracy.”
Zardari pledged that he would work to ensure that Benazir Bhutto’s vision for the country would be implemented. “Bibi has left this responsibility to me to help the poor. We will continue to work for the poor,” he said.
FAKE ACCOUNTS CASE:
The apex court had constituted a JIT to probe the case after it took a suo motu notice over delay probe into the scam pending since 2015.
Several prominent individuals, including Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, former Summit Bank president Hussain Lawai and Omni Group’s Anwar Majeed, have been nominated in the case.
Property tycoon Malik Riaz, his son-in-law Zain, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have also been included in the probe.
The JIT investigating the matter told the SC that a close nexus had been found between a troika of the Zardari Group, Omni Group and Bahria Town. The JIT report revealed that at least 29 bank accounts identified as fake had been used for money laundering of Rs42 billion.
In the fresh report, the JIT contended that prima facie evidence brought to the record during investigations clearly indicated that the Zardari and Omni groups, which started with a paid-up capital of Rs600 in 1981 and Rs6,000 in 2001, respectively, had amassed assets through misappropriation of loans, government funds, kickbacks and proceeds of crime.
The evidence suggested, it said, that the groups had a history of laundering their illegal proceeds abroad through illegal channels of Hundi and Hawala.
The report highlighted that the International Business and Shopping Centre (IBSC) project identified by the JIT to be a “Benami” project of Asif Zardari held in the name of his then front man Iqbal Memon was frozen in 1998.
Later when Iqbal Memon got exposed and left the country for Canada, the property changed hands in 2000 through Nasir Jamal’s AR Developers and in 2008 was held by Zardari, this time through Park Lane Pvt Ltd.
The report requested the apex court to order freezing of the assets of both groups held through different subsidiary and front companies and those held in the name of their directors, pending the final adjudication by the accountability courts, lest the “money laundering cartel” shift its assets abroad.
Similarly, Plots C5 and 6, Clifton, Karachi, where Bahria Icon Towers have been constructed, were identified and frozen in 1998 as “Benami” project of Asif Zardari held in the name of Galaxy Construction owned by his then front man Saleem Akhter.
This property again come back to be held by Zardari through Galaxy Construction and is now owned by his present front-man Dr Dinshaw Hoshang Ankleseria.
The JIT had recommended that the apex court should also order the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) not to change the ownership through the change of directors of any of the companies holding the assets in question.
The report also mentioned different assets owned by the Zardari Group like Opal 225 Saddar, Karachi, IBSC Saddar of Park Lane, different farm houses in Tando Allahyar and Nawabshah, a set of some houses in Clifton called Bilawal House, agricultural land, different properties owned by Faryal Talpur, different vehicles of Asif Zardari that belonged to Tosha Khana, including bulletproof vehicles BMW 760, Lexus 570 and Mitsubishi SUV, and assets in foreign countries known to be held by Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur.
Likewise, the assets owned by the Omni Group and its directors included 16 sugar mills in different districts of Sindh, 19 power generation companies, agriculture farms, real estate and agriculture land, vehicles and bank accounts, the report said.
In its first report, the JIT had mentioned a transfer of Rs357 million from 12 fake accounts into the accounts of Ms Parthenon. It transpired that Ms Parthenon was a front company of M/s Park Lane since it had no independent business of its own when it entered into a joint venture with Park Lane.