LAHORE: The main accused in the multi-billion rupee National Insurance Company Limited (NICL) scam, Moonis Elahi, was acquitted by a special banking court on Friday, citing lack of “cogent and overwhelming” evidence.
A Punjab Assembly lawmaker belonging to Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), and son of former chief minister Pervaiz Elahi, Moonis had been accused of using political influence to force the state-owned NICL to buy land at highly inflated values. He claimed, however, that the case against him was a conspiracy to malign his family.
Earlier, Moonis had submitted an application for his acquittal before the court. The judge had reserved the verdict on October 15, and announced it on Friday.
“The application in hand is accepted and accused Moonis Elahi is acquitted,” the court’s order read. The order added that Moonis “be release forthwith if [he] is not required in another case.”
In its 11-page order, the judge held that the accused was not nominated in the first information report and the only evidence available against him were the confessional statements of Abdul Malik, manager of At-Tahur (Pvt) Ltd., and Khalil Ahmad, a banker.
Mere confession of an accused cannot be used against his co-accused for passing a conviction, unless it is corroborated with independent evidence, the court’s order read.
The court added that all bank officers had turned “hostile witnesses” and did not “utter a single word against Moonis” in their statements.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had alleged that an amount of Rs10 million was transferred from the account of Mohsin Habib Warraich, an accused in the NICL land scam, to the account of Khadim Traders on April 30, 2010. Muhammad Malik, manager of At-Tahur, a company owned by Moonis, withdrew that amount and handed it over to Moonis, the FIA added. The court said there was no direct or indirect evidence that the amount credited into the account of Khadim traders was ever given to Moonis.
The court also turned down additional director-general (DG) FIA Zafar Ahmad Qureshi’s plea that Moonis had gone abroad on several occasions with Warriach.
Qureshi had said that Warraich’s brother-in-law, Jabran Khan, and Moonis were director and chairman of Agro Tractors respectively, and that fact was sufficient to establish Moonis’ involvement in the NICL scam.
The court said that the prosecution has to establish the charges with “cogent and overwhelming evidence,” and convictions cannot be based on “mere presumptions.”
Regarding allegations of money laundering, the court observed that some attempts have been made by the FIA to establish that roughly Rs90 million have been credited in Moonis’ wife’s bank account and the amount was ultimately transferred into Mooniss account.
However, the court said, the issue of money laundering is beyond its jurisdiction and the FIA might proceed in the matter independently before the competent forum under anti-money laundering laws.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has fixed October 25 for the hearing of the NICL case by a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The apex court issued notices to the attorney-deneral, DG FIA and Qureshi in this regard, along with other relevant officials.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2011.