'Fake accounts JIT being used as a tool for political victimisation': Zardari replies to probe report in SC

Former president Asif Ali Zardari denied all the claims made about the Zardari Group in a joint investigation team (JIT) report submitted to the Supreme Court in an ongoing case pertaining to alleged money laundering of billions of rupees through fake bank accounts.

The apex court last year took suo motu notice of a delay into a 2015 Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) probe into the fake bank accounts. Several bigwigs, including Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, former president of Summit Bank Hussain Lawai and Omni Group’s Anwar Majeed, have been nominated in the case. Property tycoon Malik Riaz, his son-in-law Zain, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have also been included in the probe.

The fresh JIT probing the matter told the SC earlier that a close nexus had been found between a troika of the Zardari Group, Omni Group and Bahria Town. The JIT report revealed that at least 29 bank accounts identified as fake had been used for money laundering of Rs42 billion.

The two groups, the JIT alleged in its fresh report, had amassed assets through misappropriation of loans, government funds, kickbacks and proceeds of crime.

The top court subsequently ordered the Zardari Group, Omni Group, Bahria Town, Faryal Talpur and others, including contractors/builders, to file their comments on the JIT report.

In a 17-page-long written reply submitted in the SC today, former president Zardari said that he had not done anything wrong.

“The statements recorded by witnesses and the documents [accompanying them] were not provided to us,” the reply stated.

“The JIT is being used as a means for political victimisation,” it said, adding that to accuse someone without showing them the evidence is against Article 10A of the Constitution (Right to a fair trial).

In his reply, the PPP co-chairman requested the court to dismiss the JIT’s reports, contending that the leaking of the second JIT report prior to its submission in court is against the sanctity of the court.

The reply also argued that the JIT is being used as an instrument by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government to humiliate Zardari and Talpur.

According to the reply, the JIT does not have the right to suggest that the matter should be sent to the National Accountability Bureau, and if the court orders the move upon the JIT’s suggestion, it will also be against Article 10A.

The JIT report

In the fresh report, the JIT contended that prima facie evidence brought to the record during investigations clearly indicated that the Zardari and Omni groups, which started with a paid-up capital of Rs600 in 1981 and Rs6,000 in 2001, respectively, had amassed assets through misappropriation of loans, government funds, kickbacks and proceeds of crime.

The evidence suggested, it said, that the groups had a history of laundering their illegal proceeds abroad through illegal channels of Hundi and Hawala.

The report highlighted that the International Business and Shopping Centre (IBSC) project identified by the JIT to be a “Benami” of Asif Zardari held in the name of his then front man Iqbal Memon (International Builders) was frozen in 1998. Later when Iqbal Memon got exposed and left the country for Canada, the property changed hands in 2000 through AR Developers of Nasir Jamal and ultimately came back in 2008 to be held by Zardari, this time through Park Lane Pvt Ltd.

The report requested the apex court to order freezing of the assets of both groups held through different subsidiary and front companies and those held in the name of their directors, pending the final adjudication by the accountability courts, lest the “money laundering cartel” shift its assets abroad.

In its first report, the JIT had mentioned a transfer of Rs357 million from 12 fake accounts into the accounts of Ms Parthenon. It transpired that Ms Parthenon was a front company of M/s Park Lane since it had no independent business of its own when it entered into a joint venture with Park Lane.

Similarly, Plots C5 and 6, Clifton, Karachi, where Bahria Icon Towers has been constructed, were identified and frozen in 1998 as “Benami” of Asif Zardari held in the name of Galaxy Construction owned by his then front man Saleem Akhter. This property again come back to be held by Zardari through Galaxy Construction owned by his present frontman Dr Dinshaw Hoshang Ankleseria.

The JIT had recommended that the apex court should also order the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan not to change the ownership through the change of directors of any of the companies holding the assets in question.

The report also mentioned different assets owned by the Zardari Group like Opal 225 Saddar, Karachi, IBSC Saddar of Park Lane, different farm houses in Tando Allahyar and Nawabshah, a set of some houses in Clifton called Bilawal House, agricultural land, different properties owned by Faryal Talpur, different vehicles of Asif Zardari that belonged to Tosha Khana, including bullet proof vehicles BMW 760, Lexus 570 and Mitsubishi SUV, and assets in foreign countries known to be held by Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur.

Likewise the assets owned by the Omni Group and its directors included 16 sugar mills in different districts of Sindh, 19 power generation companies, agriculture farms, real estate and agriculture land, vehicles and bank accounts, the report said.