Fake accounts case: IHC extends Zardari, Talpur's pre-arrest bail

Court grants extension in pre-arrest bail till April 29


Saqib Bashir April 10, 2019
Former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur. PHOTO: APP

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday granted a 19-day extension of pre-arrest bail to former president Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker Faryal Talpur in the case pertaining to money laundering of billions through fictitious bank accounts.

The two-member bench comprising Justice Amir Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kiyani granted pre-arrest bail till April 29.

In the hearing, Justice Farooq inquired about the number of cases registered against Zardari. “There are two investigations and three inquiries open against the PPP co-chairman,” replied a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) representative. He added that he could only reveal details of cases in which Zardari had been summoned already.

The court has given NAB until April 29 to submit reply regarding number of cases against the former president.

Fake accounts case: IHC grants Zardari, Talpur pre-arrest bails

PPP’s top leadership, 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 among those being investigated in a case related to money laundering of billions through fictitious bank accounts. The matter is also being heard by the Supreme Court.

Previously, the IHC had granted pre-arrest bail to the  Zardari siblings on March 28. A total of five applications were filed by the PPP counsel team – four by Zardari and one by Talpur. The petitions sought pre-arrest bail to pre-empt any attempt by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to take them into custody. The IHC granted bail against surety bonds of Rs1 million each per each application.

The move came after a banking court in Karachi accepted the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) request to transfer the money laundering case to Islamabad. The bureau filed the transfer appeal following the Supreme Court’s decision in the fake accounts case wherein the joint investigation team (JIT) report and evidence collected was transmitted to the bureau for further investigations.

Names of Zardari, Talpur struck off no-fly list

The fake accounts case history

Information regarding the fake accounts came to the fore when an intelligence agency picked up a prominent money changer in an unrelated case. In December 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) began a discreet investigation into certain bank accounts through which multi-billion rupee transactions have been made.

Investigators have so far identified 29 accounts which received payments, totaling at least Rs35 billion. The probe was initially shelved but resumed almost a year and a half later with FIA’s State Bank circle initiating 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 and then 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 then chief justice ordered the formation of a joint investigation team to quicken the pace of the investigation. The JIT identified 11,500 bank accounts and 924 account holders at the start of their investigation. After the JIT report, the names of 172 individuals were placed on the no-fly list by the interior ministry.

Fake accounts case: Sindh CM Murad to appear before JIT today

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.

Damning JIT report indicts Zardari, Omni groups

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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