ISLAMABAD: The names of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari were placed on the Exit Control List (ECL), a day after the government announced the names of 172 accused in the fake accounts case would be added to the list.
The list also includes the names of Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur, Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah, former CM Qaim Ali Shah, Omni Group’s Anwar Majeed, Abdul Ghani Majeed, former chairman Pakistan Stock Exchange Hussain Lawai, former president National Bank of Pakistan Syed Ali Raza and others.
Find the complete list here:
The move comes days after the JIT – led by FIA Director Najaf Mirza – submitted its findings before a three-member apex court bench headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar. The bench is hearing a sou motu case pertaining to money laundering of billions of rupees through fake bank accounts.
The federal cabinet, on Thursday, decided to place the accused on the no-fly list. The decision was announced by Federal Minister for Informaton and Technology Fawad Chaudhry. “They will be held accountable and each and every penny of the national exchequer will be recovered,” he said in a press conference.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader urged Zardari to take the JIT report ‘seriously’.
Meanwhile, PPP categorically rejected the JIT report findings. “I don’t accept it and the people of this country won’t accept it,” asserted Bilawal while addressing a large crowd of the PPP supporters at the 11th death anniversary of his mother, former prime minister and the slain PPP chief Benazir Bhutto at the mausoleum of Bhuttos in Garhi Khuda Baksh on Thursday.
“The honourable courts are being fooled, misled and used for the political engineering,” he said but hoped that the Supreme Court, which issued notices to Zardari to submit a reply on December 31 following submission of the report, would eventually reject the JIT’s report as fake.
Meanwhile, the SC Registrar has issued a written order passed by the bench on December 24. Zardari, Talpur and others named in the JIT report have been directed to submit replies within five days.
Zardari’s lawyer Farooq H Naek, close aides Hussain Lawai and Omni Group’s owner Anwar Majeed are also being investigated by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in the matter.
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 report also 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 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 JIT report further mentioned that Rs1.4 billion was sent abroad through illegal means of Hawala/Hundi.
Find the full text of the JIT report here.
The fake accounts saga
In December 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency began a discreet investigation into certain bank accounts through which multi-billion rupee transactions were 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 Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari. Another beneficiary was Nasir Lootah, the chairperson of Summit Bank and a Dubai national.
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.
Meanwhile, Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur have appeared before the investigators and have since secured interim bail from the Banking Court. The last hearing of the case was on December 21, when the duo got their fourth extension in the bail till January 7.
Amid complaints from the FIA and barbs flying in the Supreme Court, CJP Nisar ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team to quicken the pace of the investigation. One of FIA’s principal complaints was the lack of cooperation from the Sindh government.