The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Tuesday summoned PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in connection with a probe into 29 ‘benami’ accounts allegedly used to channel illicit funds, an FIA official told DawnNewsTV.

The development came a day after the Supreme Court directed the Interior Ministry to place the names of all those connected to the accounts on its Exit Control List (ECL) to prevent them from leaving the country before the case is concluded.

The FIA has constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT), headed by FIA Sindh chief Munir Ahmed Shaikh, to investigate the matter.

The duo has been directed to appear before the authorities on Wednesday to record their statements and explain their position on the accounts and transactions.

Recent developments in the case have sent shockwaves through the PPP, with Zardari scrambling to pull together a team of legal experts to extricate him from the situation. According to sources privy to the development, star lawyers Farooq H. Naek, Aitzaz Ahsan, Nayar Bukhari and Latif Khosa will brief Zardari on his legal options.

Zardari's close friend and Pakistan Stock Exchange Chairman Hussain Lawai, along with Summit Bank’s corporate unit head Taha Raza, have been taken into FIA custody in connection with the case.

PPP's reaction

In response to the development, PPP today issued a statement linking the "character assassination" of Asif Zardari to the ongoing election campaign.

"Always a character assassination campaign is launched against Asif Zardari during elections," PPP leader Saeed Ghani claimed.

"The exploiter gang is frustrated at Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari's popularity," he said, adding that the already closed cases [against Zardari] are being re-opened after they realised the popularity of Bilawal. "Why don't they recall the reference of the judicial murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto?" he asked. "Masters became active after the failure of their pawns," he added.

Suo motu notice

The apex court had last week taken suo motu notice of a 2015 probe into suspicious transactions made through 29 ‘benami’ accounts — 16 held in Summit Bank, eight in Sindh Bank and five in UBL.

Seven individuals, including Zardari and Talpur, were said to be involved in using those accounts for suspicious transactions which summed up to Rs35 billion. The accounts were allegedly used to channel funds received through kickbacks.

Among the suspected beneficiaries, the apex court has summoned: Nasser Abdulla Lootah, Ansari Sugar Mills Pvt Ltd (Anwar Majeed, Ali Kamal Majeed), Omni Polymer Packages Pvt Ltd, Pak Ethnol Pvt Ltd, Chamber Sugar Mills Pvt Ltd, M/s Agro Farms Thatta Pvt Ltd; Zardari Group Pvt Ltd (Asif Ali Zardari, Faryal Talpur), Parthenon Pvt Ltd (Iqbal Khan Noori), A-One International (account identified in Suspicious Transac­tion Report), Lucky Interna­tional (STR), Logistic Trading (STR), Royal International (STR) and Umair Associates (STR).

Those who reportedly deposited the money into the accounts were: Bahria Town Karachi (Zain Malik), Sujawal Agro Farms Pvt Ltd, Tando Allahyar Sugar Mills Pvt Ltd, Omni Pvt Ltd, Agro Farms Thatta Pvt Ltd, Alfa Zulu Co Pvt Ltd, Haji Mureed Akbar (banker on behalf of contractor), Sher Mohammad Mugheri & Co (contractor), M/s Sardar Mohammad Ashraf D. Baloch Pvt Ltd (contractor), A-One Interna­tional (STR), Lucky Inter­national (STR), Logistic Trading (I.I. Chundrigar) (STR), Iqbal Metals (STR), Royal International (STR) and Umair Associates (STR).

On Monday, the top court had directed all suspects, including Zardari and Talpur, to appear before the court.

Additional reporting by Nadir Gurmani.