Fawad presses Murad to resign in light of fake accounts JIT report

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry pressed Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to resign in light of the joint investigation team (JIT) report in the fake accounts case.

The chief minister is a suspect in a suo motu case pertaining to money laundering of billions of rupees through fictitious bank accounts.

Following the SC-constituted JIT’s report, the government placed Murad along with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) top tier; namely Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Faryal Talpur and Qaim Ali Shah, on the exit control list (ECL).

According to media, the information minister will be arriving in Karachi on a three-day visit to hold meetings with its coalition partners. He will be visiting Badin, Sukkur and Larkana.

Fawad is expected to meet Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-N) chief Pir Pagara, Liaquat Jatoi, Zulfikar and Fehmida Mirza, Qomi Awami Tahreek chief Ayaz Latif Palijo and others.

The information minister intends to discuss possibility of a new chief minister for the province. He stressed that Murad should resign as he is named in the fake accounts JIT report, media reported.

JIT report

Zardari’s lawyer Farooq H Naek, close aides Hussain Lawai and Omni Group’s owner Anwar Majeed are also being investigated by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in the matter.

The report stated that a real estate development company was involved in money laundering of Rs10.2 billion, while kickbacks of Rs1.36 billion were laundered through accounts of 19 contractors.  The JIT report also revealed that Rs1.2 billion had been transferred to Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur from JV Opal account and she had admitted it during her appearance before the team. It claimed this money was spent to procure properties in Tando Allahyar and Lahore.

The report explained that Omni Group had obtained Rs53.4 billion loans by setting up different companies because under the banking laws a company could not secure a loan of more than Rs4 billion. The report further revealed that expenses of Zardari’s house were also paid through these companies.

The JIT report further mentioned that Rs1.4 billion was sent abroad through illegal means of Hawala/Hundi.

The fake accounts saga

In December 2015, the FIA began a discreetly investigating 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 and a Dubai national.

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, totalling at least Rs35 billion.

In August, Omni Group chief Anwar Majeed was arrested along with son Abdul Ghani Majeed when they returned to the country on being summoned by the apex court. They are now on judicial remand.

Meanwhile, Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur have appeared before the investigators and have since secured interim bail from the Banking Court. The last hearing of the case was on December 21, when the duo got their fourth extension in the bail till January 7.

Amid complaints from the FIA and barbs flying in the Supreme Court, CJP Nisar ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team to quicken the pace of the investigation. One of FIA’s principal complaints was the lack of cooperation from the Sindh government.