Pakistan’s top court has constituted a 6-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe the alleged money laundering of at least Rs 35 billion through fake bank accounts, wherein Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur are also named.

“We are in no manner of doubt that in the present case formation of a JIT is imperative and necessary,” observed a three-judge bench - headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar - in its 10-page order.

“We have constituted the following JIT for the purpose of conducting a thorough investigation into the matter of fake bank accounts subject matter of these proceedings to get to the truth, uncover the persons involved and collect all material evidence for the purpose of ensuring that in case an offence is made out, the persons involved therein are properly prosecuted,” stated the order issued on Thursday.

The JIT will be headed by FIA’s Additional Director General Economic Crime Wing Ahsan Sadiq. The other members of the 6-member JIT include Commissioner-Inland Revenue Corporate Zone Imran Latif Minhas, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Joint Director Majid Hussain, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Director Noman Aslam, Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Director Muhammad Afzal and Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) Brigadier Shahid Parvez.

However, declining the request of DG FIA Bashir Memon, no representative of Military Intelligence (MI) is included in the JIT.

But on the apprehensions about the safety of the investigators expressed by DG FIA, during the course of hearing, the top court has directed Pakistan Rangers to provide adequate and effective security to the investigators and to ensure that they perform their functions without any fear to their life or liberty or that of their families.

“Such protection shall also upon request be provided to the witnesses,” the top court ruled. The top court ruled that JIT shall set up its secretariat at a place convenient to it and the team shall have all powers relating to inquiries and investigations including those available in the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC) 1908, National Accountability Ordinance 1999, Federal Investigation Agency Act 1974 and the Anti-Corruption Laws.

The top court further ruled that all executive authorities or agencies in the country shall render assistance and provide support to the JIT in its working, if required. The top court also directed the JIT to submit periodic reports before this Court regarding the progress made in the investigation on fortnightly basis under sealed cover.

The head of the JIT may co-opt any other expert who may in his opinion be necessary to complete the investigation in an effective and timely manner, the order stated. The top court further directed the JIT to submit its first periodic report within a period of 15 days commencing from the date of issuance of the order.

Supreme Court (SC) has also barred the JIT and FIA from issuing press releases or providing information relating to the investigation to the media. According to the order, this ruling is made ‘in order to ensure that the investigation is conducted in a professional, transparent and effective manner’.

The top court for the time being, however, declined the request of the Director General FIA Bashir Memon to transfer the investigation from Karachi to Islamabad. “However, in case, any material, ground or information comes before this Court showing interference in the investigation or an attempt to hamper, delay or obstruct investigation or creating an environment of fear and pressure for the investigators, the said request will be re-examined at that stage for passing appropriate orders,” the top court ruled.

SC further observed that from the record produced so far, prima facie it appeared that fake accounts had been opened in various Banks in the names of persons whose NICs had been misused without their consent or knowledge. “Many such persons have appeared before us and have categorically stated that they have no knowledge of the accounts in question. Some of them have also complained of systematic harassment and prayed for protection,” observed the top court.

“There is no denial of the fact that huge sums of money running into billions have been deposited in the said accounts by or on behalf of the persons who are under investigation or entities controlled by them. After being deposited in the said accounts, such funds have either been routed to other accounts which are traceable with some due diligence or withdrawn without any ostensible trail available.”

The order further observed that evidence of large sum of foreign exchange being routed out of Pakistan through hawala transfers by one of the arrested suspects had added an additional dimension to the investigation. “Further, in view of the fact that this Court has taken Suo Motu notice of this matter and considering the request made by the Director General, FIA and the difficulties expressed by him, we are convinced that it is in the interest of justice and to ensure that national resources and national wealth which belong to people of Pakistan is not looted, plundered or misappropriated, a high powered and highly skilled JIT is required to be set up.”

The top court observed that the counsel for some of the accused persons while making their submissions had frankly conceded that this Court had ample powers and jurisdiction in terms of Article 184(3) to appoint and nominate such JITs. “We are of the view that in appropriate cases, technical inability to undertake a complicated modern day investigation furnishes a reasonable basis and justification to constitute a JIT,” the top court observed in its order. The top court has fixed the matter for hearing on September 24.