Zardari takes centre stage in mega money laundering probe report | Pakistan Today

Zardari takes centre stage in mega money laundering probe report

–JIT report says ‘even household bills and money spent on Zardari family’s dogs were paid from fake accounts’

–SC imposes restrictions on Zardari Group, Omni Group and Bahria Town, summons Zardari and Malik Riaz in court on Dec 31

–JIT report claims that Zardari Group holds 50 per cent shares in Bahria Town’s 60-storey Icon Tower

–SC freezes Omni Group’s assets, says there will be ‘no mercy’ for Anwar Majeed

LAHORE: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday barred the trading and transfers of the properties of the Zardari Group, Bahria Town and Omni Group after a report submitted by a joint investigation team (JIT) held them responsible in the mega money laundering and fake accounts case.

A two-member bench, headed by the CJP and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, heard the suo motu case pertaining to money laundering at the Lahore Registry of the apex court.

Advocates Sardar Latif Khosa and Farooq H Naek represented former president and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Zardari in the case.

During the hearing, the chief justice remarked that household expenses of Zardari and Bilawal were paid through these companies. “Zardari and Bilawal’s heater bills and even the money spent on their dogs was paid by someone else,” he added.

The JIT report further said, “These companies paid for Zardari family’s monthly expenditure of over Rs10.2 million. Even money for the construction of Bilawal houses in Lahore and Karachi were paid through fake bank accounts.”

“Omni Group also kept making payments for dry cleaning of Zardari’s clothes,” the report stated.

“Rs1.2 billion were transferred to the account of Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur which was used to purchase land for Bilawal House, Lahore and land in Tando Allahyar,” it added.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF JIT REPORT:

The chief justice asked if the Bilawal House in Lahore was built according to the law. To this, the JIT head replied that the Zardari Group had obtained Rs53.4 billion in loans, of which Rs24bn was secured from the Sindh Bank, even though the bank could only have advanced a Rs4bn loan.

“Who owns the Bilawal House in Lahore?” asked the judge.

“At first, it was a gift but the gift was later returned and half the payment was made to Bahria Town,” the JIT head answered.

“Does it means that this is a troika of Bahria Group and Zardari Group?” the chief justice asked.

“They switched companies and made payments every time,” the JIT rep said.

The chief justice pointed out that a payment of Rs15,000 for Bilawal’s lunch was made by Omni Group. “This is not a major payment … maybe he (Bilawal) is a shareholder but then he should declare it.”

When asked by the chief justice whether bills for “passport fee, birthday and emergency lights were also paid by Omni Group”, the JIT head said, “They made payments each time after changing companies. First, there were 23 companies and between 2008-2018 the number of these companies rose to 83.”

The JIT head further said, “Investigation of 29 fake bank accounts has completed leading to discovery of more such accounts.”

The JIT representative apprised the court that Bahria Icon Tower in Karachi was erected illegally on government land, adding that the 60-storey skyscraper also encroaches on some of Bagh Ibne-Qasim’s land.

When the judge asked who the owners of the tower were, the JIT rep said that “Zardari Group holds 50 per cent shares in it, whereas Bahria Group and Dinshaw are also its shareholders.”

“Who is this Dinshaw?” the judge asked.

“He is Asif Ali Zardari’s frontman.”

Subsequently, the chief justice issued notices to Zardari, real estate tycoon Malik Riaz and his son-in-law Zain Malik, and ordered that the JIT’s report be forwarded to all the accused. The top judge instructed Zardari’s counsel to submit his reply on the report.

The judge, during the hearing, warned Malik Riaz to attend the hearing or else face arrest. “We are not dependent on anyone; if he doesn’t come then we can have him arrested.”

“Bahria’s employees are not being paid, their electricity bills are not paid … do [they think] we don’t get it?” the judge asked.

“Now they themselves, and not the prosecution, will have to prove all this.”

Further, the chief justice linked Omni Group properties with the court’s decision. “These properties will be seized,” the chief justice said and adjourned the hearing till December 31.

The chief justice also directed the JIT’s report to be forwarded to all the accused, and instructed Zardari’s counsel to submit his reply on the report.

At the onset of the proceedings, the SC ordered that a projector be setup in the courtroom so as to display the JIT report on a projector in open court.

Justice Nisar, while speaking to Omni Group counsels Muneer Bhatti and Shahid Hamid, said, “It seems that Omni Group owners are still sitting on high horses.”

“They have looted billions of rupees of the nation and are still engaging in mischief,” he added. “It seems that they will have to be shifted elsewhere from Adiala Jail.”

Justice Nisar continued, “There will be no mercy for Anwar Majeed.”

He further said, “You are a counsel and are taking fees. We will hear you, but we have to make a decision.”

Speaking to Farooq H Naek, the top judge said, “It is a matter of billions of rupees and we will not forgive. We cannot pardon those who looted billions and are now engaging in mischief.”

DETAILED JIT REPORT:

FIA SEEKS NAMES ON ECL:

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), whose JIT had compiled the report, asked the court to put the names of all the accused on the Exit Control List (ECL).

The chief justice told the FIA official to approach the Interior Ministry, saying that “they will take a decision regarding the ECL”.

Towards the end of the hearing, the top judge remarked that the JIT’s report cannot be deemed “final and complete”. He suggested that Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah should bring all the documents and set up a camp office in Islamabad.

At one point, Majeed’s lawyer, Advocate Shahid Hamid contested the SC’s jurisdiction to hear the case against Omni Group, telling the top judge that “you cannot conduct a criminal trial”.

“We can under Article 184,” Justice Nisar countered.

Later on, Justice Nisar also inquired about the whereabouts of model Ayyan Ali, who has been absconding from trial in a currency smuggling case after fleeing abroad under false pretence.

“Where is Ayyan Ali?” the top judge asked. “Did she leave Pakistan because she was unwell? If someone goes out of the country due to health concerns, is there a way to bring them back?”

Last week, the banking court extended the interim bail of former president Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur till Jan 7.

MONEY LAUNDERING CASE:

The case was initially registered in 2015 against former Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE) chairman Hussain Lawai, who is widely believed to be close to former president Zardari.

Besides the ex-president and his sister, real estate tycoon Malik Riaz’s son-in-law Zain Malik and 14 other bankers and businessmen have been booked in the case pertaining to alleged laundering of Rs4.14 billion through 29 ‘fake’ bank accounts, while Hussain Lawai, Taha Raza, Anvar Majeed and Abdul Ghani Majeed have been detained for their alleged involvement in facilitating the transactions.

Investigations so far have revealed that several ‘benami’ accounts at some private banks were opened in 2013, 2014 and 2015 from where transactions worth billions of rupees were made.

The amount, according to the FIA, is said to be black money gathered from various kickbacks, commissions and bribes.



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