ISLAMABAD - Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Monday indicated that the apex court could form a Panama-style joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the allegations of money laundering against former president Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Saqib on Tuesday heard the case regarding fake accounts and fictitious transactions conducted through 29 ‘benami’ accounts in Summit Bank, Sindh Bank and UBL.
A Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) JIT has been investigating the case pertaining to year 2015 wherein seven individuals, including Zardari and Faryal, were said to be involved in using those accounts for suspicious transactions which totalled Rs35 billion. The accounts were allegedly used to channel funds received through kickbacks.
The former president and his sister have failed to appear before the FIA JIT on multiple occasions. They have also petitioned the court to form a fresh JIT due to their reservations against FIA officer Najaf Mirza and agency’s director general Bashir Memon.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the bench – which also includes Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Umar Ata Bandial – was informed by FIA DG of the possibility that the amount laundered exceeded Rs35 billion as 10,000 dubious transactions were discovered during investigations.
He therefore requested the apex court to form a JIT having representatives of the State Bank of Pakistan, the Federal Board of Revenue, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and other experts including charted accountants to probe the high-profile scam.
Memon also told the court that the FIA’s Financial Monitoring Unit had submitted a report regarding 29 ‘benami’ accounts and a first information report had been registered in the case.
When the bench indicated that a fresh JIT would be formed at a later stage of the hearing, defence counsel Aitzaz Ahsan raised objections.
Justice Saqib said the JIT would be formed in a similar fashion to the one formed the in the Nawaz Sharif case as a “balancing act”.
The apex court had formed a five-member JIT to probe the Sharif family after their names appeared in the leaked Panama Papers.
Responding to Ahsan’s query if the trial will be heard by the top court or a lower court, the chief justice said the trial can be conducted in SC as well. He however hinted at forming a special court to hear and sought result from the new JIT in a month.
Appearing on the behalf of Zardari and Talpur, their counsel Farooq H Naek complained that his clients were declared as absconders by ignoring court’s restarting orders in the regard.
Naek termed the whole episode a pre-pole rigging but the chief justice remarked that it was a norm in Pakistan that the losers always blame others.
On August 4, in their reply submitted to the apex court, Zardari and his sister expressed reservations against Mirza, who is leading the investigation team.
“It must be seen whether the amount was laundered. The FIA has been calling my client every day, coercing for a confession,” claimed the defence counsel.
The top judge urged the siblings to appear before the FIA and prove their innocence.
“Ask your clients to join the investigation and clear themselves,” the chief justice advised Naek, adding: “If they will turn out to be innocent, I will order registration of case against Bashir Memon, the FIA and the National Accountability Bureau.
“Should we stop the investigation?” Justice Ejazul Ahsan questioned Naek, who replied: “We don’t want to stop the investigation but we will have to see whether or not the money-laundering was committed because it was not a question whether or not any money was transferred.”
Naek said that he would clarify everything before the court and after that “we will accept whatever orders the court issues”.
Justice Nisar asked Naek why he was worried and added: “We won’t allow anyone to live off of ill-gotten gains.”
“If your clients are innocent and they have no involvement at all in this matter, then you will be exonerated,” the CJP said.
“You are aware of your clients’ relationship with Anwar Majeed,” the top judge observed, referring to the chairman of the Omni Group, and a close aide to Zardari.
“My clients are innocent,” the lawyer again maintained.
While turning his attention to Omni Group Chairman Anwar Majeed’s absence, the chief justice questioned, “where he is and why he is missing from the court.”
His lawyer Raza Kazim informed the court that Majeed had been summoned on August 13, his client had been admitted to a hospital in London.
Ordering that Majeed and his family members named in the case must appear in court at next hearing, Justice Nisar said: “Whatever his condition, he must be presented in the court”
However, the court maintained that they should not be arrested if there were no cases against them.
The chief justice also inquired about the whereabouts of Bahria Town Executive Director Zain Malik and the charges against him. The FIA DG replied that Malik was suspected of collecting Rs7.2 billion in fake accounts.
The court has summoned him as well to appear on August 19, a date set for next hearing in the case.
Meanwhile, a female employee of Summit Bank also appeared before the apex court and complained that the case was being investigated by the FIA but the police have made her life miserable.
She said that she had nothing to do with the fake bank accounts as she had already been fired from the job but the police had raided her home.
The female employee without naming anyone claimed that she had been pressured by someone (a male) to give a statement of his choice in court.
The apex court summoned Sindh Police Inspector General Amjad Saleemi in the court on short notice and ordered him to investigate the claims of the woman and directed him to submit a report in this regard.
The top court also ordered the IGP to take action against the police officer for harassing the woman.
Memon told court that the Sindh Police was harassing witnesses as the accused were seeking to dispose the case.
The court said that they knew the name of the person, who was instigating police to harass the witnesses in instant case.
“They [the accused] question under which authority the Supreme Court has taken notice of the Rs35 billion case. Is it possible that the Rs35 billion is looted and the Supreme Court does not lift a finger?” the CJP remarked.
Justice Nisar reportedly also remarked that he had been threatened with dire consequences post-retirement. “I am not afraid,” he said.
CJP hints at Panama-style JIT for Zardari in fake accounts case
MUHAMMAD ASAD CHAUDHRY