–CJP clears Bilawal Bhutto’s name from case, directs NAB to complete probe in two months and file reference against accused
–NAB constitutes combined investigation team led by Rawalpindi DG Irfan Mangi to investigate case in Islamabad
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday rejected review petitions submitted by the top brass of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) seeking formation of a larger bench in the fake bank accounts case.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Asif Saeed Khosa and comprising Justice Faisal Arbab and Justice Ijazul Ahsan heard the review petition filed by PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, challenging the apex court’s directives in the suo motu case pertaining to money laundering of billions through fictitious bank accounts.
CJP Khosa announced the verdict after hearing the case for four hours.
The bench categorically said that its final order did not restrict NAB’s investigation to Islamabad and CJP Khosa added that Bilawal is not an accused in the case.
The SC’s judgement in the fake accounts suo motu case directed the joint investigation team (JIT) report and evidence collected, to be transmitted to NAB [National Accountability Bureau] for further investigations. The bench gave NAB two months to conduct a fresh investigation and file references against the accused.
A Joint Investigation Team had named PPP leaders Asif Zardari, Faryal Talpur, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. Omni Group Chairman Anwar Majeed and his son Abdul Ghani Majeed, former Pakistan Stock Exchange chairman Hussain Lawai, Summit Bank Senior Vice-President Taha Raza among 32 others for involvement in the mega billion rupee money laundering scam.
Following the top court’s decision, NAB constituted a combined investigation team (CIT) led by NAB Rawalpindi Director General Irfan Naeem Mangi under the supervision of NAB chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal.
The petitions stated that the “impugned order suffered from errors floating on the surface of the record”. It also argues that the directions issued in the SC order “are prejudicial to the petitioner in any futuristic eventualities of a fair trial and due process will not be possible under Article 10 (a) of the Constitution”.
“The powers under Article 184(3) of the Constitution are not unlimited, unfettered, completely discretionary, knowing no bounds,” read the petitions.
The review appeals further stated that the apex court’s decision “commits an error in holding that the constitution of the JIT is a valid exercise of jurisdiction in aid of a lawful object”.
FAKE ACCOUNTS CASE:
In December 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency began a discreet investigation into certain bank accounts through which multi-billion rupee transactions had been made. According to FIA, 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 Asif Ali 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. Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of the ‘slow progress’ in the money laundering case.
In July, Zardari’s close aides; Hussain Lawai, Taha Raza and two others were arrested. Subsequently, the first case was registered in the mega-corruption scandal.