ISLAMABAD: Questioning the federal government’s conduct after submission of a joint investigation team’s (JIT) final report on the alleged Rs42 billion money laundering by the Pakistan Peoples Party’s top leaders, the apex court has observed that the JIT report is not the gospel truth.
“The JIT report is a fact-finding inquiry, which is yet to be endorsed by the Supreme Court,” said the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, who was heading a two-judge SC bench that resumed hearing of the case on Monday. Justice Ijazul Ahsan was the other member of the bench.
The JIT report that was submitted to the apex court last week implicated almost the entire top leadership of the PPP including its Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zaradri and Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in the scandal that allegedly involved monetary transactions through fake bank accounts.
Later the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led federal government turned up the heat on the PPP as it put names of all 172 people – including Sindh’s incumbent Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah – who were accused of wrongdoing in the report, on Exit Control List (ECL).
The PTI Sindh chapter also started claiming it had won support of a number of PPP lawmakers in Sindh Assembly and also hinted at bringing a no-confidence motion against the CM Shah.
The SC, however, took strong exception to putting these individuals’ names – particularly that of Sindh chief minister and other eminent politicians – on the ECL and warned that no one will be allowed to derail democracy which is the main component of the Constitution.
“The Supreme Court will strike down the governor rule [in Sindh] within seconds, if it will be promulgated against the Constitution,” the CJP added.
He also expressed anger over the federal ministers’ statements about the JIT report. The bench warned the government to refrain from commenting on the ongoing proceedings in this case.
The bench also asked the federal cabinet to reconsider the list in next meeting by applying its mind. “May be the cabinet approved the summary in a haste. Now the government should look into each and every case [separately],” said the top judge.
The CJP summoned the relevant minister and the summary approved by the federal cabinet regarding the ECL. Later, Minister for State on Interior Shehryar Afridi appeared before the bench.
The AGP read out the summary which said the JIT had recommended placing name of the individuals on the ECL. Getting upset, the CJP asked the JIT head Ahsan Sadiq as to why he gave the impression that the apex court had directed government to put these names on the ECL.
“Was it your mandate? Should we put your name on the ECL till final decision on the JIT report?” asked the CJP. “What was the need to put name of Sindh CM on ECL? Did the government expect him that he would abandon his duties as chief minister and run away?”
The JIT chief said they had recommended names in view of these people’s conduct and not the status. “Everything was done with bona fide,” he added.
Sindh advocate general, however, said though the JIT contacted the CM for cooperation during probe it did not ask him about the allegations later levelled in the report.
Advocate Faisal Siddiqui, who was representing the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), said the JIT report did not recommend arrest of any accused person nor did it suggest disqualification in view of the findings. He said the JIT proposed further probe into nine cases while filing 16 references.
Taking exception to the media commentary on the matter, Justice Nisar summoned the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) chief. The bench ordered him to submit report about the implementation of its verdict to restrain media from passing any comment on sub judice matters.
Farooq H Naek – counsel for Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur – requested the bench that he is withdrawing his papers as his name has also been included in the JIT report as an accused.
The bench, however, asked him to represent the respondents, adding that the court might remove his and family members’ names after considering the JIT report. The court directed Asif Ali Zardari and Talpur to submit their reply over the JIT this week.
Later, the bench also ordered the FIA to probe the matter related to the alleged fake audio of the PPP lawyer Sardar Latif Khosa about the case. “Tell your higher-ups that we are not acting at someone else’s behest. We are doing everything independently with full conscience,” the CJP asked Khosa.
Hearing of the case was later adjourned for one week.
A senior lawyer who witnessed the whole proceedings said that the apex court wants to give due process and fair trial to the accused persons; therefore, it has passed such directions.
The JIT report in a nutshell
According to the report, the JIT identified 11,500 bank accounts and 924 account holders at the start of their investigation.
Its experts generated 59 Suspected Transaction Reports (STR) and 24,500 Cash Transaction Reports. That means the transactions were flagged as suspicious.
Due to the high quantum of transactions, the JIT decided on a threshold of Rs10million “to track, follow and minutely investigate the flow of funds beyond the immediate counterparties and determine the source of funds and ultimate beneficiaries.”
It questioned 767 individuals, including Zardari and Talpur, while Bilawal submitted written responses.
It has since had the names of 147 individuals placed on the Provisional National Identification List, which would allow authorities to identify if those individuals try to enter or exit the country through an airport. After the report was submitted to the SC, the names of 172 individuals have been placed on the no-fly list by the interior ministry on the JIT’s request.
The investigations have focused on 32 accounts of 11 fake entities. The first account, belonging to M/S Lucky Enterprises, opened in January 2010 and remained active till January 2017. It was used for 13,809 transactions.
The investigation uncovered that the 11 sole proprietorship entities were registered in the names of low-level employees of the Omni Group, as well as random individuals including a deceased person. All the accounts were operated by Omni Group executives.
A thorough review of the JIT report shows that representatives of State Bank and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) played a vital role in the investigation and preparation of the final report and recommendations.
Read the full text of the JIT report here.