ISLAMABAD - Supreme Court on Wednesday decided to constitute a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe alleged money laundering to the tune of at least Rs35 billion through fake bank accounts, wherein Pakistan People’s Party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur are also named.
The members of the JIT will comprise representatives from Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).
The top court also expressed its inclination towards accepting the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) request regarding the inclusion of the representative of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the JIT.
The nomination of JIT members will be decided by the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan. These nominations will be decided soon.
The top court, however, declined the request of FIA Director General (DG) Bashir Memon wherein he pleaded for transfer of investigation from Sindh to Islamabad on account of serious threats to the investigating officers of FIA in the case.
However, the top court assured the DG FIA with provision of Rangers for the purpose of security in Sindh.
The court also directed FIA DG to conduct medical tests of Anwar Majeed and Abdul Ghani Majeed, of Omni Group, in future if required, in Islamabad instead of Karachi. The FIA DG was also directed to submit their earlier medical reports in the chamber.
The three-judge bench heard the suo motu on alleged money laundering to the tune of billions of rupees through fake bank accounts for two hours. The matter was taken for the purpose of constitution of JIT and hearing the objections of accused persons’ counsels on the JIT.
At the outset, FIA DG complained regarding non-cooperation by accused in the investigation. He, however, said that important record was taken into custody during the raid and on interrogation it was revealed that a foreign company had also been established in the name of Anwar Majeed’s family members. He also added that a hefty amount had been transferred into/from foreign account of a foreign company identified as KAM Crown International Trading House Co. LLC Dubai.
Earlier, FIA in its report, had claimed that the alleged laundered money through fake accounts was utilised for purchasing properties in the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates (UAE) and licence of the said foreign company was in the names of Anwar Majeed’s family members.
Two foreign bank statements of KAM Crown maintained at Habib Bank AG Zurich, Dubai, and Emirates NBD Dubai were recovered during search of the office of Ghani Majeed, the report added.
“Transfer of amount in/from the foreign accounts of KAM Crown and withdrawal of huge amounts from the fake accounts (Summit Bank/UBL/Sindh Bank) in the same days creates suspicions that capital had flown out of Pakistan via illegal route of hawala and hundi.”
In a latest 10-page report submitted on Wednesday, the FIA stated: “During the course of enquiry/investigation it was found that bulk cash was withdrawn from fake accounts under genuine/fake signatures of multiple persons. In the same period, bulk foreign currency (GBP 5878329-record collected so far) has been transferred by accused persons/directors of M/s Omni Group and their family members through foreign currency accounts maintained at different banks.”
According to the latest report, the major cash depositors in these foreign currency accounts are the same individuals who have been withdrawing cash from fake accounts ‘which establishes the fact that initially kickback money layered in fake accounts has been laundered through foreign currency accounts’.
The report further added that the funds in the foreign account were also transferred to different individual companies in UK, Sri Lanka and Kenya to bear the expenses of the family and friends.
During the hearing, FIA DG Memon further stated that the recovered Hard Drive during the raid was of 10 Terabyte wherein details of transactions of millions were present. The requirement of justice is to constitute a JIT, the FIA DG said.
Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Anwar Mansoor Khan informed the bench that the case related to transactions of cross-border. “There are difficulties in approaching cross-border banks and one of the major difficulties was personal accounts and cross-border banks do not share personal information,” AGP said.
The chief justice observed that the court also wanted investigation by experts so that no prejudice was caused to anyone.
The AGP added that since the matter was serious so private experts could not be hired, adding that unfortunately Cyber Crime Wing of the FIA had no expertise of that level due to which difficulty could also come in the way in tracing down the chain of transactions.
On this, FIA DG said that his Cyber Crime Wing had expressed its confidence to trace the transactions but he wanted SECP, FBR and other authorities also on the board.
Advocate Shahid Hamid representing Anwar Majeed and Abdul Ghani Majeed also took the rostrum and objected the constitution of JIT.
While citing the famous Panama case judgment of April 20 and observations of Justice (Retd) Ejaz Afzal Khan, Advocate Hamid contended that the top court could not conduct the trial.
He further contended that FIA took six months to finalise the report on the basis of which an FIR was lodged, adding that an interim challan was submitted in the relevant court but it was not placed on record.
He further contended that after two weeks of interim challan the FIA should have filed a complete challan. He also said that both his clients Anwar and Abdul Ghani were patients and one of them was suffering from cardiac ailment.
Commenting on Panama judgement, Justice Ijazul Ahsan responded that the cited para of Justice Khan in Panama judgment was for the purpose that top court was not going to conduct the trial itself, adding that reasons were different in that case because NAB chairman had refused.
“That was another situation. The issue here is that there is lack of expertise. So in this eventuality, jurisprudence could be developed,” the chief justice observed.
The CJ asked the counsel to make submissions as to why the top court could not exercise its original jurisdiction.
He observed that this court wanted the truth to be unearthed and there was seemingly fraud of Rs35 billion, adding that the court wanted the investigation in transparent way.
Regarding illness of Anwar and Abdul Ghani, the CJ asked the counsel why not the medical tests were taken in Islamabad.
“In Karachi, there are many resources for them. Even the chief minister phones them to tell that they will be living in the room of superintendent. I know what Seemi Jamali did in Jinnah Hospital. This is prerogative of the court as to where the medical tests of accused should be conducted,” the chief justice observed.
Regarding reference of Panama judgment given by advocate Hamid, the CJ told him that not to cite a judgment which was not relevant to this case.
On the contention of interim challan and not filing final challan, the CJ observed that the interim challan meant that investigation was pending.
Justice Bandial observed that it was not necessary obligation that final challan had to be submitted in 16 days after registeration of FIR.
Advocate Hamid contended that their fundamental right will be breached. To this, the CJ said: “If you claim your fundamental right then it is also the fundamental right of this nation to know if their money was not being looted through kickbacks.”
Justice Bandial told the counsel to explain which fundamental right was being affected if the investigation team was being constituted after FIA’s stance that it had no expertise to progress further.
Justice Ahsan asked the counsel: “why do you presume that JIT will be against you, it could be in your favour as well.”
Advocate Hamid also complained regarding the media trial and media hype on the case.
“We will do something in this context as well,” said chief justice, adding that it was not a minor case. He observed: “Ladies and shopkeepers stated before the bench that they don’t own these billion of rupees. If these were not the owners then who were? Somehow it has to be inquired.”
“We are going to ascertain and to find out the truth. A lady said she never saw even Rs50,000 in her life and millions of rupees came into her account,” he added.
Munir Bhatti, counsel for other three sons of Anwar Majeed namely Nimer, Mustafa and Ali Kamal, informed the bench that no notice was issued to his clients by FIA and these three were listed in proclaimed offenders.
He further requested for deletion of his clients’ names from ECL adding that his clients were unprecedently taken into investigation. He further informed the bench that FIA counted the values twice.
On this Justice Ahsan observed that experts needed to look into it adding it might exonerate the accused persons. The bench, however, rejected the sons’ plea of deleting names from ECL.
Advocate Aitzaz Ahsan, counsel representing a company, contended before the bench that the top court always avoided the assumption of suo motu jurisdiction in the cases which were already pending at lower forums. He also endorsed the citation of Panama judgment given by advocate Hamid.
Advocate Ahsan requested: “Objections of accused persons be heard whatever this bench constitutes because if an accused has registered an FIR at earlier stage then it will be an apparent revenge with the accused.”
He was referring to the FIR earlier lodged on the complaint of Zardari against Najaf Mirza Kulli, who is heading the investigation of fake bank accounts.
“If you are talking about Kulli, so we will not include him in the team,” the CJ made clear to Aitzaz.
When Farooq H Naek, counsel for Zardari and Talpur, took the rostrum, the CJ told him that his clients should welcome the JIT instead of raising objection over it.
“Your clients said they have nothing to do with this matter so they should meet the JIT for getting themselves cleared,” the CJ added.
Naek, however, contended that FIA already constituted JIT and the matter had to be looked into by banking courts, adding, that in such cases criminal code of procedure was applicable.
“It is my inalienable right to be dealt with in accordance with the law,” contended Naek while opposing the JIT in the already presence of FIA’s JIT.
The CJ, however, observed that fraud was committed in billions so this court was going to constitute the JIT to ascertain the truth irrespective of the fact what FIA had been doing. He observed that no one would be harassed and investigation would be kept secret.
He asked the FIA DG to tell which institutions were necessary to be made part of JIT. The FIA DG informed the bench that SECP, FBR, NAB, ISI and MI should also be made part of JIT. When the DG took the names of ISI and MI, the bench asked the DG that why the intelligence agencies were required.
The DG FIA said that these were required for collection of data and security. He further complained that the investigation was being carried out in Karachi, Sindh and his officers were facing serious threats.
“There is a general perception. Officers belong to interior Sindh and everyone knows who is in Sindh government,” the DG added. He requested the bench to shift the investigation from Karachi to Islamabad.
Justice Bandial observed that such kind of harassment had to be tolerated, adding: “We cannot change the jurisdiction and you have to establish it for seeking relief in this context.”
Justice Ahsan asked the DG FIA whether the officers were being pressurised. The CJ said that Rangers’ security will be provided to the officers. The DG also requested for delegating the powers of NAB to FIA for recovery of money. Later, the bench adjourned the hearing.
SC to form JIT for probing Rs35b money laundering
SYED SABEEHUL HUSSNAIN