KARACHI: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur on Saturday challenged the banking court’s decision to transfer the fake accounts case to an accountability court in Rawalpindi.
The counsel for the former president and his sister filed a petition in the Sindh High Court (SHC) to overturn the decision which allowed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to move the case to Rawalpindi.
The petition maintained that “the [banking] court’s decision is illegal” and pledged that it be declared “null and void”.
Last month, a NAB prosecutor had filed a statement with the trial court on behalf of NAB Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal, stating that the investigation of the case had been transferred to the anti-graft watchdog by the apex court. Therefore, he requested the trial court judge to transfer the proceedings of the trial in the present case to the accountability court in Rawalpindi.
After listening to the arguments, the banking court had reserved its verdict earlier this week. On Friday, the court announced its verdict and allowed the transfer of the fake accounts and money laundering case from Karachi to the apex court in Rawalpindi.
Following the verdict, the anti-graft watchdog summoned Asif Ali Zardari and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in Islamabad on March 20.
In December 2015, the FIA 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 People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif 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, totalling 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.