KARACHI: A banking court on Thursday extended the interim bail of former president and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur.
Omni Group Chairman Anwar Majeed, his son Abdul Ghani Majeed, former Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) chairman Hussain Lawai and banker Taha Raza also appeared before the court as it heard arguments pertaining to the transfer of the case to Islamabad.
During the hearing, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) prosecutor told the court that the suspects’ bail petition was unjustified. At that, Zardari and Talpur’s lawyer Farooq H Naek interjected that FIA should have presented a final challan. Then, the court asked FIA Investigation Officer Muhammad Ali Abro about progress in the case. He responded that the case is being transferred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) upon the orders of the Supreme Court.
At this, Naek pointed out that the top court had not given orders for filing a NAB reference but had directed further investigation in the case. Then, the court directed the prosecutor to either submit a challan or a petition to transfer the case.
The prosecutor assured that “the record is being transferred” in cooperation with the accountability watchdog. He clarified that a request for more time for filing the final challan has been submitted at every hearing.
The court then accepted Naek’s request for an extension in his client’s interim pre-arrest bail and adjourned the case till March 5.
In December 2015, the FIA began a discreet investigation into certain bank accounts through which multi-billion rupee transactions have been made.
According to FIA sources, information regarding the fake accounts came to the fore when an intelligence agency picked up a prominent money changer in an unrelated case.
As the monitoring and investigation of these suspicious accounts continued, it surfaced that five of these accounts in two banks – the Sindh Bank and Summit Bank – had been used for transactions worth around Rs15 billion.
Investigation showed the accounts were operated by fake companies. Funds were credited into these accounts from contractors with multi-billion rupee contracts with the Sindh government.
The money was found to have been transferred to accounts of companies owned and operated by the Omni Group, whose chairperson, Anwar Majeed, is a close aide of Zardari. Another beneficiary was Nasir Lootah, the chairperson of Summit Bank.
The probe, however, was shelved. It resumed almost a year and a half later. FIA’s State Bank circle initiated a formal inquiry in January, 2018.
By June, the FIA had several high-profile names on its list but was unable to make headway – for several reasons. It was at his point that the Supreme Court intervened. Justice (r) Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of the ‘slow progress’ in the money laundering case.
In July, Zardari’s close aide Hussain Lawai and two other suspects were arrested. Subsequently, the first case was registered in the mega-corruption scandal.
The FIA submitted its report to the apex court on July 8 which revealed a web of companies and accounts that were being used to transfer billions of rupees.
In all, 29 accounts were identified that received payments, totaling at least Rs35 billion.
In August, Anwar Majeed was arrested along with son Abdul Ghani Majeed when they returned to the country on being summoned by the apex court. They are now on judicial remand.
Meanwhile, Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur have appeared before the investigators and have since secured interim bail from the banking court.
The last hearing of the case was on December 21, when the duo got their fourth extension in the bail till January 7.