ISLAMABAD: Two petitions seeking disqualification of PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari under Article 62(f)(i) of the Constitution were filed in the Supreme Court on Monday by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders.
The petitions, filed by Member Sindh Assembly Khurram Sher Zaman and Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Youth Affairs Usman Dar, lists Zardari, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and National Assembly secretary as respondents.
The PTI leaders maintain that Zardari omitted details pertaining to ownership of an apartment in New York City, United States, in the nomination papers filed ahead of the general elections. He also failed to disclose two bulletproof vehicles. Thereby, violating Article 62(f)(i) of the Constitution and Section 231 of the Election Act, 2017.
The petitions highlights that Zardari occupies more than one office – apart from co-chairing PPP, he is also president of Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP). This violates Article 63 (a) of the Constitution.
“Both the apartment and the armoured vehicles have not been disclosed in the Form B of the nomination papers filed by Respondent No. 1 [Zardari] on July 6, 2018, as a candidate for NA-213,” it added.
The petitions also stresses that Zardari’s alleged involvement in the alleged money laundering of billions of rupees through fictitious bank accounts are grounds for disqualification.
The PTI had decided to pursue Zardari’s disqualification after a Supreme Court-constituted joint investigation team (JIT) submitted its findings in the fake accounts suo motu case.
Earlier, Zaman had moved an application before the ECP to de-seat the former president. Citing new evidence, he retracted the appeal after deciding to approach the top court instead.
The Constitution and Elections Act, 2017
Article 62: Qualifications for membership of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)
(1) A person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) unless;
(a) He is a citizen of Pakistan;
(b) He is, in the case of the National Assembly, not less than 25 years of age and is enrolled as a voter in any electoral roll in;
(i) Any part of Pakistan, for election to a general seat or a seat reserved for non-Muslims;
(ii) Any area in a Province from which she seeks membership for election to a seat reserved for women.
(c) He is, in the case of Senate, not less than thirty years of age and is enrolled as a voter in any area in a Province or, as the case may be, the Federal Capital or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, from where he seeks membership.
(d) He is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions.
(e) Has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practises obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins.
(f) He is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law.
(g) He has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan
(2) The disqualifications specified in paragraphs (d) and (e) shall not apply to a person who is a non-Muslim, but such a person shall have good moral reputation.
Article 63: Disqualifications for membership of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)
(1) A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), if:
(a) He is of unsound mind and has been so declared by a competent court; or
(b) He is an undischarged insolvent; or
(c) He ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign State; or
(d) He holds an office of profit in the service of Pakistan other than an office declared by law not to disqualify its holder; or
(e) He is in the service of any statutory body or any body which is owned or controlled by the Government or in which the Government has a controlling share or interest; or
(f) Being a citizen of Pakistan by virtue of section 14B of the Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951 (II of 1951), he is for the time being disqualified under any law in force in Azad Jammu and Kashmir from being elected as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Azad Jammu and Kashmir; or
(g) He has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release; or
(h) He has been, on conviction for any offence involving moral turpitude, senteced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release; or
(i) He has been dismissed from the service of Pakistan or service of a corporation or office set up or, controlled, by the Federal Government, Provincial Government or a Local Government on the grounds of misconduct, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his dismissal; or
(j) He has been removed or compulsorily retired from the service of Pakistan or service of a corporation or office set up or controlled by the Federal Government, Provincial Government or a Local Government on the ground of misconduct, unless a period of three years has elapsed since his removal or compulsory retirement; or
(k) He has been in the service of Pakistan or of any statutory body or any body which is owned or controlled by the Government or in which the Government has a controlling share or interest, unless a period of two years has elapsed since he ceased to be in such service; or
(l) He, whether by himself or by any person or body of persons in trust for him or for his benefit or on his account or as a member of a Hindu undivided family, has any share or interest in a contract, not being a contract between a cooperative society and Government, for the supply of goods to, or for the execution of any contract or for the performance of any service undertaken by, Government:
Provided that the disqualification under this paragraph shall not apply to a person:
(i) Where the share or interest in the contract devolves on him by inheritance or succession or as a legatee, executor or administrator, until the expiration of six months after it has so devolved on him;
(ii) Where the contract has been entered into by or on behalf of a public company as defined in the Companies Ordinance, 1984 (XLVII of 1984), of which he is a share-holder but is not a director holding an office of profit under the company; or
(iii) Where he is a member of a Hindu undivided family and the contract has been entered into by any other member of that family in the course of carrying on a separate business in which he has no share or interest; or
Explanation.- In this Article “goods” does not include agricultural produce or commodity grown or produced by him or such goods as he is, under any directive of Government or any law for the time being in force, under a duty or obligation to supply.
(a) He holds any office of profit in the service of Pakistan other than the following offices, namely :-
(i) An office which is not whole time office remunerated either by salary or by fee;
(ii) The office of Lumbardar, whether called by this or any other title;
(iii) The Qaumi Razakars;
(iv) Any office the holder whereof, by virtue of such office, is liable to be called up for military training or military service under any law providing for the constitution or raising of a Force; or
(b) He has obtained a loan for an amount of two million rupees or more, from any bank, financial institution, cooperative society or cooperative body in his own name or in the name of his spouse or any of his dependents, which remains unpaid for more than one year from the due date, or has got such loan written off; or
(c) He or his spouse or any of his dependents has defaulted in payment of government dues and utility expenses, including telephone, electricity, gas and water charges in excess of ten thousand rupees, for over six months, at the time of filing his nomination papers; or
(d) He is for the time being disqualified from being elected or chosen as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) or of a Provincial Assembly under any law for the time being in force.
Section 231 of the Elections Act, 2017
The qualifications and disqualifications for a person to be elected or chosen or to remain a Member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) or a Provincial Assembly shall be such as are provided in Articles 62 and 63.
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 have been 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.
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.
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.