Zardari, Talpur submit petition challenging SC decision

Published: January 28, 2019
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Former president Asif Ali Zardari with his sister, Faryal Talpur. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Former president Asif Ali Zardari with his sister, Faryal Talpur. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: Former president Asif Ali Zardari and sister Faryal Talpur on Monday submitted a petition in the Supreme Court (SC) to review and recall the January 7 decision in the money laundering case lodged against the PPP’s top leadership.

In the civil review petition prepared by the Latif Khosa, the former president and his sister have challenged the earlier decision by the apex court.

In light of the joint investigation team (JIT) report, the apex court had directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to conduct a fresh investigation within two months and file references against the accused.

Damning JIT report indicts Zardari, Omni groups

The JIT had named the top tier of PPP’s leadership including Asif Ali Zardari, Faryal Talpur, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. Omni Group’s Anwar Majeed and his son Abdul Ghani Majeed, former Pakistan Stock Exchange chairperson Hussain Lawai, Summit Bank Senior Vice-President Taha Raza are also among 32 people being investigated by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Following the top court’s decision, the anti-graft watchdog constituted a combine investigation team (CIT) led by DG Rawalpindi Irfan Naeem Mangi under the supervision of NAB chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal.

The petition stated that the “impugned order suffered from errors floating on the surface of the record”. It also argues that the directions issued in the SC order “are prejudicial to the petitioner in any futuristic eventualities of a fair trial and due process will not be possible under Article 10 (a) of the Constitution”.

“The powers under Article 184(3) of the Constitution are not unlimited, unfettered, completely discretionary, knowing no bounds,” reads the petition.

The review appeal further stated that the apex court’s decision “commits an error in holding that the constitution of the JIT is a valid exercise of jurisdiction in aid of a lawful object”.

“The facts and circumstances of the case and in light of the JIT report in this court was not justified vide impugned order in directing the transmission of the JIT report along with all the material and evidence collected by the JIT to the NAB”.

Decision to remove Bilawal, Murad’s names from ECL to be made after SC judgement: Qureshi

The petition further argues that the court was “not justified in passing any order at all giving directions to the NAB and JIT thereby curtailing rights of the petitioners and others”.

“That such binding dictates coming from the Supreme Court tantamount to obstructing the free flow of justice in the inquiry/ investigation of NAB and JIT and is contrary to the authoritatively mandated,” the petition said.

The petitioners also claim that the JIT had exceeded its mandate and scope given to it. It said the allegations against Talpur were unlawful since JIT was only mandated to probe Zardari Group. “The result of the overstepping by the JIT from the task assigned to it in order dated September 5, 2018 by the Hon’able Court was politically exploited in that 172 persons enmass were placed on ECL including chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Murad Ali Shah.”

The petition said the inquiry “starting with limited number of fake accounts was stretched by the JIT into a roving inquiry and witch hunting crossing over into unfathomed waters”.

“The petitioners have been subjected to a derogatory campaign to stigmatise and malign them politically for unreservedly standing with the downtrodden voiceless weak segment of the society.”

NAB forms team to probe fake accounts case

Speaking to the media outside the SC, Khosa confirmed filing the review petition. “The matter pertains to a banking court. It does not fall under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. Since a challan has already been sent to the banking court, there is no need to refer the case to NAB.”

Reflecting on the apex court’s decision to take suo motu notice due to the slow progress in the case, Khosa stressed that there were thousands of cases pending in Pakistan’s courts. “If the SC’s intention was to expedite judicial proceedings, then there are many more cases that it needs to focus on.”

He said former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar had been particularly enthusiastic to launch the inquiry. “We have always expressed reservations on the formation of the JIT. Under which law are intelligence operatives included in the investigation team?”

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.

Top court orders Bilawal, Shah’s names off ECL

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.

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