ISLAMABAD/ LAHORE: The top court on Monday banned the sale, purchase and transfer of properties owned by three business groups after a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) submitted its report revealing that Rs42 billion was laundered through 29 fake bank accounts that had also been used to pay expenses of former president Asif Zardari’s home.
The JIT report claimed misdeclaration of assets by Asif Zardari in his nomination papers submitted in the 2018 general elections.
Legal experts say that if JIT’s findings are proven true then Zardari may be disqualified for lifetime as lawmaker by the Supreme Court under Article 62 (1) (f) of the constitution.
Likewise, the most demeaning thing for PPP is that JIT has recommended filing of references against Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
“Mr. Asif Ali Zardari while being President of Pakistan used payments through pay-order from a ‘deceased person’ (Muhammad Idrees) for payment of import duty of luxury bulletproof vehicles, imported by him and registered in his name till date, without declaration in the wealth statements and Form B Declaration of Assets and Liabilities submitted to Returning Officer for General Elections 2018 (NA-213)”, says the JIT report.
A two-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar heard the fake bank accounts case at Supreme Court’s Lahore Registry. The other member of the bench was Justice Ijazul Ahsan.
As the bench commenced proceedings, the CJP ordered presentation of the JIT report through a projector in the court. The JIT members disclosed in the report that 29 fake bank accounts had been identified, which had been used for massive money laundering.
The report stated that a real estate development company was involved in money laundering of Rs10.2 billion, while kickbacks of Rs1.36 billion were laundered through accounts of 19 contractors. The JIT head, Federal Investigation Agency’s Additional Director General Ahsan Sadiq, said Zain Malik and Mushtaq Dinshaw were involved in money laundering through fake bank accounts. “Who is this Mushtaq Dinshaw?” the CJP asked.
The official claimed that Dinshaw was the front man of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari, adding that his name had also figured in model Ayyan Ali’s money laundering case.
He contended that a high-rise in Karachi was being constructed on government land, adding that land of Bagh Ibne Qasim had also been used illegally. Zardari Group has 50 per cent shares in it. He further said the accounts of Dinshaw had also been used for illegal transfer of Rs8.3 billion in alleged kickbacks.
Justice Nisar asked about model Ayyan Ali, who has been absconding from trial in a currency smuggling case after fleeing abroad. “Did she leave Pakistan because she was unwell? Is there any mechanism available to bring someone back to Pakistan if he/she goes out of the country due to health concerns?” the CJP asked.
The JIT report revealed that Rs1.2 billion had been transferred to Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur from JV Opal account and she had admitted it during her appearance before the team. It claimed this money was spent to procure properties in Tando Allahyar and Lahore.
The top judge, speaking to the counsel of Omni Group, said it appeared that its owners were still sitting on high horses. “They have looted billions of rupees of the nation and are still engaging in mischief.” Justice Nisar said there would be no mercy for the group’s owner Anwar Majeed.
The report explained that Omni Group had obtained Rs53.4 billion loans by setting up different companies because under the banking laws a company could not secure a loan of more than Rs4 billion. The report further revealed that expenses of Zardari’s house were also paid through these companies. The CJP expressed surprise when the court was informed that Rs2.7million payment for sacrificial goats and some amount for pet dogs’ food had also been made by Omni Group. The report claimed that the expenses of Zardari family's residences in both Karachi and Lahore, known as Bilawal Houses, were paid through fake bank accounts.
After that the CJP asked if the Bilawal House in Lahore was secured according to the law. "Who owns the Bilawal House in Lahore?" asked the judge. The JIT head replied at first it was a gift but it was later returned and half the payment of Rs170 million was made to Bahria Town. “It is owned by Mr Zardari now,” he added.
The chief justice remarked that it meant there was a troika of the groups. The JIT head replied, ”Yes, they are working as a troika to take the money out of the country illegally.”
The Omni group was launched in 2007 and it owned 27 companies but the number swelled to 83 in 2018. Surprisingly, companies’ loans were restructured 83 times and the National Bank of Pakistan had not initiated any proceedings despite declaring them defaulter 10 years ago, the report said.
The JIT report further mentioned that Rs1.4 billion was sent abroad through illegal means of Hawala/Hundi. The chief justice also sought personal appearance of the real estate firm’s owner.
The court ordered that the JIT report be forwarded to all the accused and directed the Zardari, Omni and real estate groups to submit their replies in five days.
The FIA, whose JIT had compiled the report, also asked the court to put the names of all the accused on the Exit Control List (ECL). The chief justice, however, asked the FIA officials to approach the interior ministry, saying that it would take a decision regarding the ECL.
Towards the end of the hearing, the top judge remarked that the JIT report could not be deemed "final and complete". A JIT member told the court that the Sindh government as well as Anwar Majeed did not cooperate during the investigation. On this, the chief justice hinted at summoning Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, but did not do so.
Majeed’s counsel told the court that he was an old man 77 years of age and he had disassociated himself from the group many years ago. However, the chief justice said then matter that nothing to do with age, adding that it meant that the FIA should arrest Majeed’s son Nammar Majeed for interrogation.
At one stage, the CJP snubbed Majeed’s counsel Shahid Hamid after he questioned the power of the Supreme Court to hear the case of money laundering.
“We can proceed under Article 184 of the Constitution,” Justice Nisar said, adding, “You might be an accomplished lawyer in the field of corporate law but don’t undermine the court.” Advocate Hamid said presumption of innocence was always afforded to the accused unless proved guilty, urging the bench to refer the matter to a criminal court. He apprehended that if the trial was conducted by the country’s top court, it was tantamount to depriving the accused of the legal right of appeal against the decision.
PPP co-chairman Zardari’s legal team led by Farooq H. Naek and Lateef Khosa was also present in the courtroom.
The proceedings were adjourned till December 31 when the hearing will be held in Islamabad.