ISLAMABAD: The apex court has hinted at forming Panamagate-style joint investigation team (JIT) to probe into money laundering allegations against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) supremo Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur as the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) claims there is a ‘direct link’ between the alleged offence and the siblings.
“A JIT [comprising officials of different departments] could be formed in a similar fashion to the one formed the in the [former premier] Nawaz Sharif case to maintain balance,” remarked the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Monday.
The CJP was heading a three-judge bench, also comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Umar Ata Bandial, which was hearing a suo motu case with regard to Rs35 billion worth shady transactions from and to the account of Zardari Group, a business owned by the former president and his sister.
When Justice Nisar suggested formation of a JIT, defence counsel Aitzaz Ahsan raised objections.
Responding to Ahsan’s query if the trial will be heard by the top court or a lower court, the CJP said on a lighter note said the trial can be conducted by the SC as well. The CJP also hinted at forming a special court to hear the case on daily basis so that the trial could be completed in a month.
Earlier, the FIA Director General Bashir Memon revealed that the amount laundered exceeded Rs35 billion as more than 10,000 dubious transactions were discovered during investigations. “We need the help of some charted accountants,” he added.
He said witnesses were threatened as the accused persons wanted that the case be disposed of by the apex court and e referred to a banking court so that it could stay unresolved for 15 years.
Earlier, referring to the court’s earlier directives to the FIA to halt probe against Zardari and his sister in the case until July 25 polls, their counsel Farooq H Naek lamented that the FIA had declared his clients as absconders despite the apex court’s orders and termed the FIA’s act a ‘pre-poll rigging’.
“It must be seen whether the amount was laundered. The FIA has been calling my client every day, coercing for a confession,” claimed the defence counsel.
The top judge urged Zardari and Talpur to appear before the FIA and prove their innocence. “If they are declared innocent, I will order an FIR against DG FIA Bashir Memon and others,” he said.
The court later adjourned hearing until August 13, when it will examine the matter regarding the constitution of a JIT. The court has summoned Anwar Majeed, a close aide of Zardari and one of the accused in the case, on the next date of hearing.
FIA’s report claims direct link
The FIA submitted before the bench a report that claimed that its investigation into bank accounts’ inter-linkages proved that Zardari’s personal account was used to deposit Rs18.8 million in the account of the Zardari Group.
The amount was not used to increase the number of shares of the depositor. “This shows that he is directly linked with the account of the Zardari Group as no complaint of misuse of his name/account has ever been made to concerned authorities” read the report.
The FIA further disclosed that account of the Zardari Group was used to deposit Rs30 million into suspicious bank accounts and later an amount of Rs85 million was transferred from an account of the Zardari Group to a suspected account titled ‘Lucky International’ under the signature of Faryal Talpur.
“However, no complaint whatsoever was made by any of the directors regarding the misuse of their accounts to concerned authorities which shows that these transactions were made with their connivance,” it claimed.
The report said ‘substantial transactions’ have been made between the Zardari Group’s account and ‘suspicious accounts’ of companies like Lucky International, Umair Associates, A-One International and Tariq Associates.
Moreover, the same amount was used to shift money to suspicious accounts of the Ocean Enterprises, Dream Traders, Lucky International, Owais Muzaffar Tapi, Syed Abbas, Zakir Ansari and Saeed Fareed.
The FIA claimed that Zardari Group clearly established close linkages with suspicious bank accounts of bogus companies. It said three additional suspected accounts have also been identified in the name of Dream Trading Ocean Enterprises and Gateway Steel etc, which are being investigated.
The FIA informed the court that it had acted to seize accounts and properties of Anwar Majeed, who is closed aide of the PPP supremo.“The legal action under section 5 (5) of FIA Act 1974 (seizure) has been initiated against the accounts and properties of Omni Group, owned by Anwar Majeed.”
The report said a very conspicuous fact is the involvement of certain ‘government functionaries’ in this case, as a heavy amount of Rs787 million was deposited by various government contractors in these accounts through cash and cheques.
“Such heavy amounts could never have been arranged from such contractors without the direct involvement of highly influential individuals, who could force these government contractors to deposit such amounts, which obviously are kickbacks,” it claimed.
The FIA said during the investigation, 29 suspicious accounts were identified with transactions totalling Rs35 billion. These accounts were opened in various years and remained active and operational for a span of approximately one year.
“Seven individuals were used for opening 29 accounts which were used for placing/parking, layering and integration of ill-gotten money. Despite the flow of Rs35 billion, no corresponding tax references were found in FBR’s [Federal Board of Revenues] Active Tax Payers (ATP) record.”
It said the major amounts from these suspected accounts were received by Omni Group owned by Anwar Majeed and his family, Summit Bank Chairman Nasir Abdullah Lootah and Parthenon Limited.
The report said the illegally obtained funds to the tune of Rs3.9 billion which were parked in these fake accounts were ultimately transferred to Omni Group accounts for laundering of black money and thereafter used for the payment of loans and/or markup of the Summit Bank.
Accused Muhammad Arif Khan is an authorised signatory of accounts of Agro Thatta Company (Omni Group). He was instrumental in managing deposit and withdrawals from these 29 suspicious accounts.
He also witnessed the opening of a personal account for Zardari in Karachi. He has been also established to have withdrawn and deposited cash amounts in these suspicious accounts, “a fact which is proven by the availability in the bank record where these transactions were made.”
The report said Anwar Majeed, who is an absconder, is one of the main person involved in the scam as his group (Omni Group) received Rs3.9 billion from these suspicious accounts and same group deposited Rs2.8 billion into these accounts.
“The phenomenal rise in his wealth and assets during previous years needs to be investigated once he surrenders before the law and in this regard, all methods will be adopted,” said the report.
Complaint of harassment
The CJP remarked that he had been threatened that he would face ‘dire consequences’ after retirement. “I am not afraid,” he said, adding that people would not be allowed to get away with corruption.
During the proceedings, three people including two women also appeared in whose names fake accounts were opened. They complained that they have been harassed by the Sindh Police.
“[Such things happen] whenever influential persons get involved in any case. I am aware that the police harass witnesses on the instruction of one upcoming minister,” the CJP said.
Chiding the police, He directed Sindh IG Amjad Javed Saleemi to probe into the matter and take strict action against those involved in the harassment. The IG was also asked to submit a report in this regard.