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KARACHI/ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Karachi office on Tuesday summoned Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur for questioning in an ongoing investigation against Pakistan Stock Exchange chairman Hussain Lawai, in a case involving transfers of Rs4.145 billion from one of 29 suspicious bank accounts to 13 firms which include the one linked to the former president.

Their names have also been placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) on orders of the Supreme Court, the interior secretary has confirmed.

On Tuesday, FIA officials pasted notices at the entrances of Bilawal House and Ms Talpur’s bungalow in Defence Housing Authority in Karachi, asking them to appear before an investigation team on Wednesday (today) to record their statements regarding the case.

The officials said that the FIA team had opted to paste the notices on their residences after the staff at the two houses refused to receive the documents, claiming that Mr Zardari and Ms Talpur were not home.

PPP leaders term move pre-poll rigging, say some candidates being forced to quit party

“Initially, policemen deployed at their houses stopped the FIA teams from pasting the notices at the entrances of the houses... that attracted intervention from senior officials of the Sindh police and the FIA. 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,” said the officials.

Talking to Dawn, Interior Secretary Yousuf Naseem Khokhar confirmed: “The names of Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur have been put on the ECL on Monday as it was ordered by the Supreme Court in a money laundering case.”

He said: “In case of orders of the apex court and in cases related to terrorism, names of the accused are placed on the ECL at once.’’

Reacting to news of their party co-chairperson’s name being placed on the ECL, PPP leaders spoke to journalists at Bilawal House in Lahore on Tuesday evening and complained of discriminatory treatment being meted out to the former president. They alleged that several of their candidates were being pressurised to part ways with the party.

“Asif Ali Zardari has neither been [formally] declared as an accused nor has any reference been instituted against him so far but an extreme step has been taken by putting his name on the ECL, hurting the feelings of millions of supporters,” said PPP’s legal expert Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan.

The former senator was joined by senior party leaders Farhatullah Babar and Sherry Rehman. Prior to their media briefing, they held an internal consultation to discuss the addition of Mr Zardari’s and his sister’s names to the ECL, and the FIA notices sent to them earlier in the day.

According to party sources, the PPP’s legal team has advised Mr Zardari and Ms Talpur to appear before the FIA in person.

Calling out the FIA for its “discriminatory” attitude towards his party leader, Mr Ahsan said that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s name had not been placed on the ECL since he had held the office of prime minister, even though a formal inquiry had been initiated against him for over a year. This relaxation, he pointed out, was not considered for the former president.

He said FIA chief Bashir Memon’s brother was a candidate of an anti-PPP alliance (Grand Democratic Alliance) from Matiari, Sindh, making the director general’s position a biased and controversial one.

Mr Ahsan said the joint investigation team formed to probe the money laundering allegation was being headed by Najaf Mirza who, as a jail superintendent, had [unlawfully] handed over under-custody Mr Zardari to the police back in 1999. “We reject the investigation report [if it is] to be authored by such people,” he said.

The former senator regretted that the FIA notices pasted in front of Bilawal House mentioned Rs15m as the amount of money laundered in the case, while the media was creating the impression that the amount was Rs35bn.

Former senator Farhatullah Babar said this was pre-poll rigging. “Placing their names [Mr Zardari’s and his sister’s] on the ECL just 15 days before polling day is in fact an attempt to make the voters suspicious about their leaders and candidates.”

He alleged that a carrot-and-stick policy was being used to make PPP candidates defect from the party. “Some officers of a sensitive agency are threatening PPP leaders in Dera Ismail Khan and Sindh,” he said, naming a couple of officers.

The PPP leader said they believed the Election Commission of Pakistan was helpless because banned outfits are taking part in the July 25 elections. The Milli Muslim League, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik and other such parties were in the electoral race for the benefit of a certain party, and the elections were being made controversial through “back seat driving”, he alleged.

“The IJI [Islami Jamhoori Ittehad of 1988 formed against the PPP] of 2018 is in the making... without learning a lesson from the IJI of the past.”

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman made it clear that the party would take part in the polls despite the “pre-poll rigging”. She said the welcome being given to Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in Punjab had made certain quarters restless.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018