KARACHI - A banking court in Karachi on Thursday extended till March 5 the pre-arrest bail granted to former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and other suspects in a case pertaining to money laundering of billions through fictitious bank accounts.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) top leadership, the Omni Group’s Anwar Majeed and his son Abdul Ghani Majeed, former Pakistan Stock Exchange chairperson Hussain Lawai, Summit Bank Senior Vice-President Taha Raza are among those being investigated in the case. The matter is also being heard by the Supreme Court.
Zardari and Talpur arrived at the hearing under stringent security, while the incarcerated suspects Anwar Majeed, Abdul Ghani, Lawai and Raza were brought in by police.
During the hearing, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) submitted a medical report citing reasons for its failure to present main accused Aslam Masood, who was recently apprehended with the help of Interpol.
Meanwhile, the National Accountability Bureau’s prosecutor maintained that the case should be transferred to Islamabad and said the move was approved by NAB chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal.
He also requested the court to dismiss the bail extension pleas.
The FIA prosecutor seconded his stance, arguing that the Supreme Court’s directives in the suo motu case do not leave room for bail.
Advocate Farook H Naek, Zardari’s counsel, pointed out that the apex court had ordered the JIT report to be forwarded to the anti-graft watchdog in Islamabad for future corruption references.
“The order did not mention the case pending in the banking court,” he said and accused the FIA of misconstruing SC order.
The court told FIA to submit documents if there had been any new developments in the case. The banking court adjourned the hearing of Anwar Majeed and Abdul Ghani’s bail pleas till February 20 and granted extension in pre-arrest bail to Zardari, Talpur and five others till March 5.
In December 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency 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 Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairperson Asif Ali 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, totaling at least Rs35 billion.