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Falling prey to ‘Halal’ investments

Published Aug 04, 2013 01:27pm


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Lal Masjid posted a notice denying any involvement in the illegal scheme. -Photo by Ishaque Chaudhry
Lal Masjid posted a notice denying any involvement in the illegal scheme. -Photo by Ishaque Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD: “I was blinded by the false promises made by friends who had invested money in Modaraba (an Islamic investment system) for I was made to believe that by doing so, I would be following the path of the Prophet (PBUH).”

This was how Mohammad Ejaz, who runs a local restaurant in Saddar Rawalpindi, explains who he ended up investing in an illegal investment venture operated by Mufti Ehsanullah of Rawalpindi.

By investing Rs500,000 in the ‘Islamic’ venture, Ejaz hoped to reap the benefits of both worlds with a single transaction.

However, soon after he made his investment in the beginning of this year, he found out that the National Accountability Bureau was investigating the investment venture.

Within months, the venture was found to be illegal and shut down.

Ejaz also found that many such ventures existed across the country in which people invested money with clergy, thinking it to be Islamic and interest-free only to find out later that these ventures were illegal and perhaps even shady operations.

Background conversations with NAB officials and others have revealed that these ventures are basically operated by a network of clergy, which ensured the faithful of the spiritual benefits and hefty returns (for example Ejaz was promised Rs8,000 per month on every Rs100,000 deposited) and though investors were provided documentation verifying their ‘investment’, the transactions were illegal and the investors had little idea about where the money was being invested and in what sort of businesses.

But people were lured in because the clergy promised a lucrative deal that was devoid of interest and other ‘impurities’ which they argued were present if the money was kept in banks or invested in regular companies.

The investors were assured that the profits would also be reaped from Halal sources.

Like other investors, Mr Ejaz was attracted by the holy talk especially as the people who headed these people were Muftis (in hierarchy of Sunni Islam, a Mufti is highly educated cleric).

The main contact between the investors and muftis were the directors of the companies, who were operating the venture. These directors tended to be active preachers. This made interaction with potential investors easier.

The director through whom Mohammad Ejaz invested the money was a local preacher in Rawalpindi who operated out of a small office at Choor Chowk, Rawalpindi.

All this came to light when NAB started to look into Mufti Ehsan, the head of the venture Ejaz had invested into.

Codenamed the ‘Mufti Scandal’ within NAB, the Bureau nabbed the Mufti behind the operation and imprisoned him for two months after which he offered to pay Rs450 million in exchange for his freedom. Another Rs100 million are still to be recovered and Ehsan’s name has been placed at the Exit Control List (ECL).

In order to reclaim their investments, some 85 investors, including Mr Ejaz, had filed a written application with the NAB about a month ago.

However, not all investors in these illegal ventures were as lucky.

When this scandal came to light, another similar venture, run by Mufti Osama, fell apart because its operators ran away fearing investigation. Those who had invested in it have now lost their money.

According to NAB officials, Mufti Osama, the operator of this illegal Modarba business, escaped to United Arab Emirates (UAE) along with the investors’ money.

He belongs to Southern Punjab and is said to be linked to Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). However, the Lal Masjid management denies this.

Furthermore, a NAB official said Mufti Khalid, the partner of Mufti Osama who lured people to invest in the Islamic business, was also close to the Lal Masjid.

Originally from Fatehjang, the cleric holds sway over major seminaries in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, he added.

The building of the Mosque has now posted a message stating that they had nothing to do with such investment schemes. Maulana Abdul Aziz has regularly denied any links with such Islamic investment schemes.

How the scandal came to light

The bureau took up the case in March this year after queries were made by several depositors regarding the legality of such investments, and a formal complaint was registered by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).

The vast majority of these depositors are not only educated but also relatively well off businessmen – some of them had invested up to Rs10 million.

“We were driven by a combination of religious fervor and greed. We fell for the catchy slogans of the clergies,” Mr Ejaz said.

The investments by the depositors had been acknowledged by Mufti Ehsan in written form, as he stamped and signed the deposit forms.

At the moment, NAB is scrutinising their documents after which they may get their original investment back from the Rs550 million that Mufti Ehsan paid up.

In the letter to NAB, the SECP stated that seven companies were involved in the illegal business, but none of these were registered with the government and their accounts had not been verified by any certified auditor.

“We were concerned about the illegal deposits made by the general public, and as such operations are prone to fraud, they needed to be closed down,” said a senior official of the SECP.

He said the episode started when certain people asked the State bank and the SECP whether or not the micro-investment programmes initiated by the clerics were registered. “They wanted to know whether investments in such schemes were legal or not,” the official said.

However, subsequent investigations by the NAB revealed that the ventures were illegal and the companies were not even registered.

Mufti Ehsan was the operator of Spadix Pharma Company and Fayyazi Group of Industries according to the documents with NAB. However, Spadix Pharma is not operational while other factories of the Fayyazi Group, such as one factory in Gujranwala for producing sanitary ware, were non-functional.

Mufti Ehsan told NAB that the depositors’ money had been invested in various profit-making businesses abroad, including trade of gemstones in Thailand and Honk Kong, and the investments were done without employing any banking channels.

However, NAB has not bothered to verify his claims about his overseas businesses or look into Ehsan’s claims of transferring money out of the country without using legal banking channels.

Similarly, a NAB official said Mufti Ehsan also transferred money to Dubai on behalf of clients for a commission.

The NAB however failed to forward this case of illegal money transfer to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) even though Ehsan had acknowledged his involvement.

“The clergy have declared almost everything, including banking, taxation, business laws and even departments, un-Islamic or based on western principles,” said a NAB official, adding that such propaganda was hurting the economy.


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Comments (71) Closed

Minhas Aug 04, 2013 01:45pm

I think we must carefully choose words to explain the situation, we can not compare illegal activities of some idiots to the Religion. Halal investment is a solid reality as many banks in Pakistan now offer it. So I must advise the author to think it wisely instead of focusing and concluding on such fraud activities. Thanks

Ali S Aug 04, 2013 01:48pm

"The director through whom Mohammad Ejaz invested the money was a local preacher in Rawalpindi who operated out of a small office at Choor Chowk, Rawalpindi."

This operation was being run out of a place named Choor Chowk (Thieves' chowk). Ironic, isn't it?

Tahir A Aug 04, 2013 02:03pm

Likewise there are too many fund raising organizations which pop up from nowhere during Ramadhan making the public fool asking for donations through the bank. One can see them advertising extensively on TV satellite channels. Viewers discretion is sought before they fall prey.

Hussain Naqvi Aug 04, 2013 02:34pm

The untiring efforts to dig suuch scandles of the clergies of the particular school of thaghts having links with Red Mosque are very much appreciable. Kalbe Ali deserves much more than appreciation as he has tried to save the innocent inteding investors from the grapes ofthe mullahs.

OS Aug 04, 2013 04:00pm

This news item has a picture of Lal Masjid simply because DAWN has suspicions that these clerics had 'some' connection to it. Keep up the shady journalism... The news item itself mentions the Masjid very briefly. I do not understand why the picture was needed?

Gopal Ramdev Aug 04, 2013 04:19pm

There wasnt a mention of the what was illegal in this! not doing business through the bank?

Khalid Pathan Aug 04, 2013 04:31pm

Fraud done with Islamic labels are still acceptable to simple Muslims. As long as people will not use their brains to think, they will remain susceptible to such frauds.

Zain Bukhari Aug 04, 2013 05:04pm

The article remains weak as it fails to give any sign of what actually made the business/investments venture illegal. In Pakistan we are very fond of conspiracy theories, stories as well as following the patterns and fashions blindly. I would be very cautious in believing any business illegal only because Dawn or the one and only "honest and intelligent" NAB is telling me so, and without any signal or why and how it is illegal.

Farhan Aug 04, 2013 05:08pm

If it sounds too good to be true then it is too good to be true.

jibzy Aug 04, 2013 05:37pm

the key here is "We were driven by a combination of religious fervor and greed". i guess its greed that governs their religious fervor too. such shenanigans are also there where there is greed

Anon Aug 04, 2013 05:44pm

"The love of the money is the root cause of all evil."

Akram Aug 04, 2013 05:50pm

The mullahs criticise the state, but they show that they are no better, in fact they are even worse using religion to fill their own pockets.

Ramadan kareem Aug 04, 2013 05:55pm

at least some good from the NAB, I am happy that NAB has caught these moulvis for corrupt businesses But frankly this is going on far many years.

shobi Aug 04, 2013 06:40pm

too much repetition of 'venture' and 'clergy', mr. 'KALB'-E Ali you have well mixed up your personal contempt for 'clergy' and a noble cause. Bravo

Truemuslim Aug 04, 2013 06:41pm

@Zain Bukhari: I am surprised that you did not find any illegal stuff here, the guy so called muslim mufti is transferring money to other countries without any proper channel and you said it is not illegal. I would like for all these so called mosques to be closed or demolish for ever, and land should be given back to the right full owners of the land. My country has suffered from this munafiq islam so much already. But people are un-educated and plain stupid. All they follow are their emotions and somehow justify that they are doing Allah's work. Please read the Holy Book first! We are not following real Islam, but rather we are following munafiqeens!

fida sayani Aug 04, 2013 06:44pm

@Minhas: Money loaned to the wife of Pakistan former Prime Minister was a banker, after ten years the total loan swelled to 470 millions including interest. Later she settled for Rupee 50 million. Would I trust a Pakistani bank whether they are doing Halal transaction or western oriented transaction. NO Sir.

Syed Aug 04, 2013 07:03pm

@Zain Bukhari: The fact that there was no transparency and appropriate registration is sufficient for me to believe they were operating illegally. Islamic contract law requires transparent and just means. This was not investment in a company, this was investment in the people, who used religion as a front and then ran away with hard earned money of people. If they had nothing to hide, why did they run away ?

S. A. M. Aug 04, 2013 07:30pm

I think it is good of Dawn to make them aware of the thugs in the guise of religion. I hope people will start treating these so called religious leaders as any other human being who can cheat them any time. Hav'nt we heard of the stories of the kids that were sent to the neighbourhood mosque to learn reading Quran but the qari saheb consigned the kid to afghanistan to fight the holy war. this is not the time that parent can afford to entrust their loved ones to the teachers, uncles, auntires or molvies. they have to be very good friends with their juniors so that they can share each & every experience good or bad with their parents.

Siyalkotia Aug 04, 2013 07:40pm

Islamic Republic Of Pakistan, Zindabaad.

qzj00 Aug 04, 2013 08:10pm

@Zain Bukhari:

NAB or no NAB, if one has even half a brain, Rs. 8,000 a month return on a RS. 100,000 deposit should be enough to get the warning bells going . . . . No legitimate business can be that profitable. Greed does numb the brain!

zaib khilji Aug 04, 2013 09:05pm

the banks of Pakistan are also nnot in conformity with Islamic injunctions . none of the bank in Pakistan is interest-free ,some banks give the name of Islamic banking but they are not Islamic because all banks are linked and in some way controlled by the state bank of Pakistan and sbop rules and regulation are based on western Pakistan

Khalid Aug 04, 2013 09:09pm

@Zain Bukhari: No no no. In Pakistan we have too many people who can be robbed in daylight as long as you mention the word ISLAM. This is the easiest way to rob someone of his life savings. The guy who lost 500,000 rupees of his hard earned cash, is probably not as smart as you are. We need make religion a personal matter. Given equal qualifications, I would trust a christian, a hindu and a jew much more than I would trust a muslim. Sad but true.

Hasan Aug 04, 2013 09:26pm

@Minhas: Halal investment is a profit and loss investment, how came these cleric guarantee Rs.8000/- per month for every Rs.100,000 investment. Any true Halal investment cannot guarantee you fixed return-on-investment. Ironically, these Clerics also claim that Bank Halal investment are not truly Halal, and then they follow the same path.

Hasan Aug 04, 2013 09:39pm

At least numbers of thing they did illegal 1) none of these were registered with the government 2)their accounts had not been verified by any certified auditor 3) none of the micro-investment programmes initiated by the clerics were registered companies were not even registered by land of law 4) Mufti Ehsan also transferred money to Dubai on behalf of clients for a commission, which is illegal as per law of land; 5) investment was done in Thailand and Honk Kong, and the investments were done without employing any banking channels; 5They don

Tahira Aug 04, 2013 10:07pm

The famous banks have Senior schemes to lure retired and other older people with money. They offer 11% monthly return on their holdings without disclosing where the money is invested. This is a huge return these days. While in Pakistan, I had a checking account with a balance of a few lac. I was advised by the manager to transfer to Senior account and get the monthly interest. I think they should be required by law to disclose exactly where the money is invested to give back such income.

independentthinker Aug 04, 2013 10:55pm

As the saying goes ---- easy come, easy go! Why don't I feel sorry for the investors? I am almost convinced that the money they invested - may have also come from the wrong channels and the greed of getting more, would have let them to this path! A person working hard for a living - would think twice before letting go of his savings. So, before we feel sorry - let us ask where did all these millions of rupees come from? It takes a thief to catch a thief!

Bakhtawer Bilal Aug 04, 2013 11:02pm

@Zain Bukhari: Opening up a business without registering is illegal Opening up an investing firm, without the due process is illegal. Transferring money out of country without legal method is illegal. Not paying taxes is illegal. Not keeping all the records of the investments/ expenditure is illegal. I can go on and on. It is not what dawn is saying, it is all in the news.

Sridhar Aug 04, 2013 11:06pm

Transparency and public accountability are the hallmarks of any halal or kosher or legal investment. It is not uncommon for unscrupulous clergy, whether Christian (remember the mafia-Vatican nexus), or Hindu or Muslim, - it really does not matter. Crooks or crooks, by any other name. I am surprised the naivet

FireCracker Aug 04, 2013 11:17pm

@Ali S: The correct pronunciation is Chuhar (????) Chowk

azad Aug 04, 2013 11:32pm

@Zain Bukhari: This business is illegal from A to Z. * the business is neither register with SECP nor SBP. * its investment avenues are not known. * it involve money laundering. * Its a fraud becz ignorant investors has been deprived from their valuable savings. * Misuse of Islam for personnal narrrow interest.

all of these crimes are punishibale nder pakistani laws.

MK Aug 05, 2013 12:00am

This type of reporting achieves one goal of the media, demonize Islam. Words like mufti , molana and Lal Masjid stay in the readers mind negatively. Young people start to lose trust in the Quran when they see actions of these so called scholars who understand the Quran more than ordinary people

Faisal Aug 05, 2013 12:30am

I have no idean why people dont get lessons from past, it looks like nothing has changed from SAMAD Scandle to this day. Prophet Mohammad SAW said which mean that the Momin can not be bitten by a sanke twice from the same hole.

Dr. Sohaib Abdi Aug 05, 2013 12:41am

Is there any concern with Above picture of Laal Masjid?

Mike Aug 05, 2013 02:34am

The "Downfall" of Pakistan is Zia-ul Haq and the "MULLAHS".

A. Khan Aug 05, 2013 03:31am

For financial matters, below are a few rules :

  1. Never trust a man with a beard.

  2. Never trust a man playing to your emotions using religion as a prop.

  3. Never trust anything a mullah says.

If we observe these rules, our money will be safe and our lives will be really peaceful.

MAH Aug 05, 2013 04:34am

This greed blinded not only investors but also the preachers ..... who reduced religion to only another brand name in the market of corruption! There should be higher levels of penalties for people exploiting other people's religious sentiments.

DK Aug 05, 2013 04:42am

Being blinded by faith is the root cause of foolish decisions.

S Aug 05, 2013 05:19am

Isn't it just another fraud case? Why make it specific to religion? Is the author saying that there are no frauds in non halal investments? Please stop mis guiding people. it will not do you any benefit. People can think now and can see through your objectives.

saeed Aug 05, 2013 06:29am

@Gopal Ramdev: Not registering the business with the government, not maintain account books, not having accounts audited regularly, not declaring annual accounts and not paying taxes on profits. So many things are illegal in it. Everyone who has done some business anywhere understands it.

Ahmed Aug 05, 2013 06:45am

molvi ki daari maiN tinka.

Ohsama Aug 05, 2013 07:21am

Islamic banking is never going to work in modern world, and why would you put religion in economy?. Then why don't we muslims do barter system like back in the days. We must separate state and religion, religion is personal and STATE is collective!!!

Shahpur Aug 05, 2013 10:09am


Unbelievable. It appears it is far better to become a MULLAH these days, then wasting your time and money trying to become a Doctor, or Engineer, with no prospect of finding a job, to support your family.

Usman Khan Aug 05, 2013 12:58pm

Ponzi schemers graduating from a seminary does not a clergy make. So much for the "well of" and "educated" businessmen trying to make a quick untaxed "halal" buck.

kayamat Aug 05, 2013 04:20pm

@Ohsama: Religion that the prophet propagated is supreme. It is everywhere and in everything. It is there in what you wear, what you eat, what you do, whom and how many you sleep with. Is there any need for democracy, when the holy book has everything not just under the sun but in the universe? Try to understand man!

ANAND Aug 05, 2013 06:28pm

@Ohsama: I hope you are a muslim and looks like you have found the real issue

OS Aug 05, 2013 06:55pm

@Hussain Naqvi: Exactly what I expressed in my earlier comment. Mr. Naqvi, you did make this a sectarian issue! Well, was it what DAWN wanted? And the number of thumbs up to your comment reflects either the intellectual immaturity (read inability to reflect on their own thinking) or the personal skewness (read bias) of DAWN readership!

Tanvir Aug 05, 2013 08:45pm

There is nothing new in finding some religious looking persons robbing their unsuspecting followers of their money. It's a very common con game in the West, specially in the US where unberded preachers in white suits or robes collect huge sum of money from their followers in the name of God and live off comfortably until caught by the FBI. One dead fish does stink the pond. It just needs to be removed and tossed to the dogs to keep the pond cleaan for others.

NMA Aug 05, 2013 08:54pm

The easiest and cheapest way to market something in Pakistan - in the name of religion!!

Taha Lateef Aug 05, 2013 09:42pm

Can't read the notice in the picture. It would have been worth if the exact text of the notice was also reported in the news article.

Taha Lateef Aug 05, 2013 10:10pm

There are many opportunities for Halal investments that exist in the country. I feel that one of the characteristics of a Halal investment would be that it would not be unscrupulous. The news report mentions a return of 8% a month or 96% a year. Is that realistic? In all probability no. It is too good to be true if this money is invested in a legal and moral business. That I think should have been the red flag for everyone.

On the other hand, I am quite sure that there would be other clerics who may be offering reasonable options. It is important for the investor to check before investing.

The heading of the news report is catchy and seems to demonize Halal investments. There is nothing wrong with the Madariba and Musharika mode of investments. The thing is that you have to draw out contracts reasonably well and you intention should be clean. Islam is very clear about one thing: the entitlement of reward (profit) in business is for assuming the risk. There is nothing like a risk-free investment, even as the one mentioned above where a return of 8% per month was quoted with a certainty in advance. (One a lighter note some may argue that the risk is the MULLAH will run away with all the money).

A small example of the Islamic concept of assuming risk is that A cannot sell to B something which is with C without first taking possession of it from C. Once the goods are in possession of A, he has assumed the risk for those goods and is now entitled to profit from it. The issue that comes in the modern times is how this principal is interpreted, that does it really mean by A taking possession of goods from C. Without going into details, there can be quite a few ways to do it. What we really need it from our clerics, is the real understanding of these principals and that of modern finance and how to marry two while keeping the equity embedded in the principal alive. (e.g. for the case above what are the cases that constitute that A has taken possession of goods from C.) Alas this level of understanding has not been forth coming as most of clergy is perhaps well-versed in religion but not in modern finance and economics and this is where we need to work.

bill Aug 05, 2013 11:16pm

We should keeep distance in Islam and investment... Either leagle or not

Nabeel Aug 05, 2013 11:26pm

Transparency Financial Regulations Business Registrations Investment Management Accountability

Institution building and public awareness in this age of communication is simple steps to avoid many such incidents

Ali Aug 05, 2013 11:50pm

well, i see it is far better to not believe anybody whether he is mullah or else. i do not understand. if some people are told to pray to gain blessings of Allah they do not,but if you tell some people that they will get financial gains by doing so they will do exactly same.

Ramadan Aug 05, 2013 11:53pm

@MK: Your views are mediocre at best. The Quran was not written by mullahs and mufti's... The goal here isn't to demonize but to portray the reality. To show the people that there's good and bad people in the religious and non religious lot. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we believe all religious people are saints. THEYRE NOT

shahid Aug 06, 2013 12:58am

@A. Khan: perhaps you are one of very few in this so called "muslim" world who has the sensibility to understand the root cause of our downward spiral. I am whole heartedly with you. God bless us and save us from these good for nothing creatures.

A. Khan Aug 06, 2013 01:01am

@MK: You are blaming a news article for highlighting a financial crime for the reason that people move away from religion.

That's a typical ostrich mentality that I see in Pakistan whenever religion comes up. People are using religion to play on people's emotions and committing financial crimes not to mention, murder. I would think that you would have realized that by now. Its good that people hear and know about such people.

Mullahs are the scourge of this country and the sooner people realize it the better. They are not out to enlighten you but lighten your pocket. That's why i call them professional mullahs.

Please try realize that and not confuse your Islamic teachings with mullahism.

Rana Usman Aug 06, 2013 01:53am

Such stooges who are defaming Islamic banking bring a bad name to great people like Mufti Taqi Usmani sahib.

Though fraud is everywhere, forgot people like double shah?

Rana Usman Aug 06, 2013 01:54am

Just wondering if somebody says Why making it specific to religion when fraud is everywhere, why he has thumbs down like 75, or 100s?

Rana Usman Aug 06, 2013 01:59am

@A. Khan: What a man with a beard has to do with it?

Fraud is fraud

Can you show me a ratio of people who fraud with beard and those who fraud without beard?

Pakistani Aug 06, 2013 02:07am

Mulla is convinced there is no dozakh.

fika77 Aug 06, 2013 06:57am

@A. Khan: Do you really believe that people who observed your so called rules have never been victims to a fraud. Grow up man, keep faith out of it. And obviously as a person, we need to be vigilant of all kind of frauds whether in the name of faith or else.

Naseer Aug 06, 2013 08:34am

@Dr. Sohaib Abdi: It was people affiliated with the Lal Masjid who were running this scam.

Naseer Aug 06, 2013 08:35am

@Dr. Sohaib Abdi: It was people affiliated with the Lal Masjid who were running this scam.

saleem Aug 06, 2013 10:26am

@MK: facts are facts, you cant hide behind religious fervor

Naveed Aug 06, 2013 01:41pm

@Ohsama: Islamic banking is complete system of Islamic economy you can not say that it will not work just bcs of this fraud ....i has grown much faster then every other system in world but do remember one thing only disadvantage it has is unfamiliarity of Islamic banking among the people is not only operating but successful operating in developed and developing countries like egyp , Malaysia and many other USA Uk etc etc .....u just don't know the system first have knowledge then comment

Parvez Aug 06, 2013 03:12pm

@S: The difference is that the ones who did the fraud are the ones who ' wear their religion on their sleeve ' and walk about with a holier-than-thou attitude that reeks of HYPOCRISY.........and you failed to see THAT.

Zafar Aug 06, 2013 06:51pm

Why do you think then Churches/Mosques are always asking for money?

Ahmer Aug 06, 2013 07:27pm

@kayamat: Every society needs a way of governance. Otherwise every thing will fall into chaos. Your presumption is quite contrary to Islamic history as well where Prophet (PBUH) founded the city state of Madinah even when he had very meagre resources. Following what you believe in is fine; but its equally important that people respect other people's right and if they don't; a mechanism is in place to hold them to account i.e. a State.

whitesky Aug 06, 2013 08:24pm

@S: Why make it specific to religion?

it is religion specific because the money was invested with the assurance that it is Halal and the investors thought it to be in line of their faith. The scheme attracted the investment because of religious faith only.

M aslam Aug 07, 2013 12:58am

@A. Khan: Do you mean that Zardari and IK are Mullah?

Aftab Kenneth Wilson Aug 07, 2013 01:10am

Moulana Moududi right said that '' Islam my darhi hy muger darhi mein Islam Nahi hy''. Anyhow people traveling on international flights always change their seats if a person with heavily loaded beard tries to sit besides him.