–Banking judge cancels bails of Asif Zardari, Faryal Talpur and others, Anwar Majeed’s sons flee court
–PPP c0-chairman says he’s least concerned about the transfer of money laundering case to Islamabad
KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has summoned Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chiefs Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in Islamabad on Wednesday after a banking court granted its request to transfer the fake bank accounts case to the accountability court in Rawalpindi for trial.
It reported issued notices to both the father and son, saying the bureau needs to record statement in the fake accounts case, so they must appear before the investigation team with details of their companies and accounts and record their statements.
Last month, a NAB prosecutor had filed a statement with the trial court on behalf of NAB Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal, stating that the investigation of the case had been transferred to the anti-graft watchdog by the apex court. Therefore, he requested the trial court’s judge to transfer the proceedings of trial in the present case to the accountability court in Rawalpindi.
Following the arguments, the court had reserved its verdict earlier this week. On Friday, the court announced the verdict, allowing the case to be transferred from Karachi to Rawalpindi.
Subsequently, the banking court cancelled the interim bails granted to Zardari, Talpur and others as the case had been transferred to a different court.
As the verdict was announced, the sons of Anwar Majeed — co-accused — left the court, following which a team of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) followed them to make arrests.
Zardari appeared before the court after the verdict had been announced. Talpur’s counsel, meanwhile, informed the court that his client was sick, and filed an application for the court to grant her permission to skip the hearing.
Speaking to journalists in informal talk, the former president told them it doesn’t make any difference for him if the authorities transferred the case to Islamabad.
Responding to a question, Zardari said he didn’t know the motive behind the transfer and that a legal expert could tell it better.
In the last hearing, Zardari’s counsel Farooq H. Naek had argued that the Supreme Court, in its verdict in January this year, had ordered NAB to further the investigation and not to transfer the case. He claimed that NAB was trying to “pressurise the banking court” by filing transfer requests as he urged the court to reject the appeal.
Reading out the first information report filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Naek had said that the fake bank accounts case did not fall under NAB’s jurisdiction as it did not include the charges of corrupt practices and corruption. The charges did not include “deceiving the public” either, he added.
Zardari’s counsel had further said that there were “no grounds” for transferring the case to Rawalpindi, and pointed out that the top court had ordered that NAB concludes its investigation within two months, which he said had already lapsed. He further said that it was “important to review” Section 16-A (transfer of cases) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.
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 Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif 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.
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, Omni Group chief 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.