ISLAMABAD: There was relief in the ranks of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) as the Supreme Court ordered the removal of party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah’s names from the Joint Investigation (JIT) report into the alleged Rs42 billion fake accounts scam.
Likewise, the three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising by Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, while hearing suo motu case, has ordered to exclude their name from the Exit Control List (ECL). Their names have been dropped from JIT report with the consent of JIT attorney Faisal Siddiqui, who had already recommended that the team exclude their names as there was no direct evidence in the report.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been directed to conduct a fresh investigation against the persons against whom the JIT has recommended further inquiry. If the offence is made out, then file references against them, the bench observed. The bench asked NAB to complete the investigation within two months. Likewise, the order says that if the NAB requires, then a fresh inquiry can be initiated against both Bilawal and Shah.
Fake accounts case: what you need to know about the JIT report
The order has dampened the excitement of PTI led federal government, which was pressurising the Sindh CM to resign as he has been implicated by the JIT team. On the other hand, PPP lawyers looked relieved after Monday's proceedings, wherein the CJP grilled the JIT over accusations against Bilawal and Shah in the report.
Legal experts believe that after the completion of the two-month investigation into Omni Group, Zardari Group and others, the NAB will decide the fate of references when incoming CJP Asif Saeed Khosa, who is known for strict judicial scrutiny in white collar crimes, will be heading the court.
Interestingly, contrary to the Panamagate case wherein former PM Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, neither the JIT's attorney nor apex court pressed for disqualification of Asif Ali Zardari or Faryal Talpur under Article 62 (1) (f) of the constitution on the alleged non-disclosure of assets on nomination papers. PPP lawyers Farooq H Naek, Latif Khosa and Aitzaz Ahsan were sitting together in the courtroom. Likewise, Advocate General Sindh Salman Talibuddin also remained active.
During the hearing, the CJP wondered how names of Bilawal and Murad Ali Shah's were placed on the ECL.
"How was Bilawal implicated in the case? What is his role as he is just the director of the company. He may be unaware of its business activities and everything might have been done by his father and aunt," the CJP asked the JIT's attorney Faisal Siddiqi.
Upon this, the counsel stated that he is a 'beneficiary' in this matter. However, the CJP said that Bilawal is innocent as he is carrying the legacy of his mother.
The chief justice further asked JIT head Ahsan Sadiq if the team was formed just to demean people.
"We created the JIT, but on whose dictation was Bilawal implicated in this scam? You added his names for just political scoring. Delete the names of Bilawal and the Sindh CM from the JIT", he added.
The CJP asked the JIT head to explain whether it would be in the service of Pakistan to place the name of any CM on the ECL without an investigation. Would it not affect the relationship among provinces, he added.
Earlier in the hearing, judges recommended that the counsels for Omni Group, Zardari Group, and others refer the matter to NAB for further probe. However, all counsels raised objections. When Munir Bhatti, counsel for Omni, gave arguments on factual questions raised by the JIT in its report, Justice Ijazul Ahsan asked why he wants the stamp of the Supreme Court on the findings. Justice Arab also asked how the criminality can be examined by the apex court.
The CJP said there is sufficient material to refer the issue to NAB for further probe. We are going to take this matter to its conclusion. In England, the courts grant bail in murder cases but not in such white-collar crimes, he added. The CJP wondered how the court can leave this matter at this stage wherein considerable material has been placed against the respondents.
He also revealed that a police officer had met him in Karachi to inform him about details of the scam, adding that the JIT report is not baseless. He asked whether millions of rupees had been deposited in fake accounts by angels. The CJP, while referring to a graph provided by the JIT, wondered how Omni group's business gained so much momentum in the last five years.
When the counsel for Omni group stated that the JIT exceeded its mandate, the CJP said that the court can still enlarge the team jurisdiction, adding that everything is connected with the fake accounts.
Farooq H Naek, counsel for Zardari and Talpur, stated there is no direct allegation against his clients. Likewise, the JIT's allegations are based in presumption. There is mala fide to malign political leaders, he adds. PPP lawyer Latif Khosa also came at the rostrum and lamented that nobody is ready to work due to the poor state of affairs of the incumbent federal government. All senior lawyers requested the bench to exclude the name of Farooq H Naek from JIT report as he was wrongly implicated in this matter. The bench accepted their plea. However, the written order was still awaited.