–Court directs women to submit separate applications as defence lawyers object
–Zardari, Faryal Talpur appear in court, PPP co-chairman says Establishment should be asked about Musharraf’s high treason trial
ISLAMABAD: An unusual development took place during the hearing of the fake accounts case on Monday when two women requested the accountability court to be allowed to become approvers against former president and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur.
As the proceedings began on Monday, two women named Kiran Aman and Noreen Sultan, who are among the 30 women nominated in the case, told the court that they are ready to testify as witnesses and had filed an application in this regard with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman, but the bureau had named them as accused instead. The lawyers representing the other accused objected to this.
Accountability Judge Arshad Malik sought a reply from NAB Prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi on the plea. Abbasi said that he was not sure about the application to NAB chief by the accused. The court then directed them to submit separate applications with the court.
Earlier in the day, the accountability court rejected the exemption plea of the PPP co-chairman and his sister in the money laundering case. The court ordered the duo and all 16 suspects nominated in the case to appear on April 16 and adjourned the hearing till then.
Zardari, Talpur and others accused nominated in the case appeared before the court amid tight security, with at least 1,650 security officials deployed within and around the judicial complex to avoid any untoward situation during the hearing. The case was earlier being heard in a banking court in Karachi but had been shifted to an accountability court in Islamabad upon an appeal by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
During the hearing, Zardari was seated on the same chair former premier Nawaz Sharif had sat on during his trial in the Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment references.
When asked by a reporter about his feelings, Zardari said that Nawaz Sharif is “a nobleman” whereas he himself is a “humble person”. Zardari also said that the Establishment should be asked about the trial of former military dictator Pervez Musharraf.
Zardari had also asked the PPP workers not to come to the court as earlier on March 20, PPP workers and police clashed outside the NAB court where Zardari and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari recorded their statements. Both were questioned by the NAB teams under the supervision of NAB Rawalpindi DG Irfan Mangi for almost two hours in three different cases.
In December 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) began a discreet investigation into certain bank accounts through which multi-billion rupee transactions had 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 2018, 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 (SC) intervened. The then chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of the ‘slow progress’ in the money laundering case.
In July the same year, 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, totalling at least Rs35 billion.
In August 2018, 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.