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FORMER chairman of the Pakistan Stock Exchange Hussain Lawai being produced before apex court on Thursday.—Online
FORMER chairman of the Pakistan Stock Exchange Hussain Lawai being produced before apex court on Thursday.—Online

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday restrained the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) from pursuing its investigation against PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in the fake bank accounts case till the coming general elections are over.

“We do not want excuses that the July 25 elections are rigged,” observed Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar while hearing a suo motu case regarding the slow-paced investigation on part of the FIA in pending inquiries relating to fake accounts and suspicious transactions worth Rs35 billion. These accounts were allegedly used for transactions of heavy amounts obtained through receiving bribes and kickbacks.

The apex court also explained that its July 9 order had not asked for placing the names of the two leaders on the Exit Control List (ECL).

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, a member of the bench, cautioned FIA Director General Bashir Memon to ensure that no complaint of harassment was made during the investigation, suggesting that the agency should not summon anyone who was not related to the investigation.

Explains that no order has been issued to put names of two leaders on ECL

The complaints of corruption should always be probed, the court said but clarified that the present hearing was not aimed at damaging the credibility or harming the integrity of any individual named as accused in the case.

“We will hear the case of those who have been put on the ECL and decide the case after hearing them while remaining within the confines of the law,” the chief justice said.

The case revolves around a 2015 inquiry into the suspicious transactions when 29 ‘benami’ accounts were identified of which 16 were opened in the Summit bank, eight in the Sindh Bank and five in the United Bank Limited. Seven individuals were involved in suspiciously transacting Rs35bn through these accounts.

Removed chairman of the Pakistan Stock Exchange Hussain Lawai, said to be a close aide to former president Asif Ali Zardari, and co-accused Taha Raza, corporate unit head of the Summit Bank, have been arrested by the FIA in the case.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had ordered the interior ministry to immediately place the names of a number of individuals identified as accused by the FIA on the ECL so that they might not leave the country until the investigation was concluded or till further orders.

The individuals are: Anwer Majeed, Abdul Ghani Majeed, Aslam Masood, Arif Khan, Noreen Sultan, Kiran Aman, Summit Bank Chairman Naseer Abdullah Lootah, Muhammad Iqbal Khan Noori, Muhammad Ashraf, Muhammad Iqbal Araen, Muhammad Umair, Adnan Jawed, Qasim Ali and Azam Wazir Khan.

On Thursday the chief justice wondered how an impression was created in the media that the apex court had ordered placing the names of Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur on the ECL when nothing of the sort had been stated.

“We did not even summon Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur in person before the court,” the chief justice explained.

Pointing to senior PPP leader Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, the chief justice observed that he should have removed vagueness if he had any about the orders before briefing his party after attending a meeting on the subject. If he felt any ambiguity, he should have moved an application to seek clarity on the order.

Farooq H. Naek, another PPP leader and lawyer, regretted that the FIA had hurled allegations that Mr Zardari had received Rs15 million in his accounts when he was not a director of the Zardari Group Pvt Ltd.

Moreover, the FIA had appointed Najaf Mirza head of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) it had constituted to investigate the matter, he said, recalling that Mr Mirza as the then superintendent of Karachi jail had been accused of inflicting a wound on the tongue of Mr Zardari during an investigation in 2005. His name had been mentioned in the FIR registered on behalf of Mr Zardari.

The court, however, observed that no official could be removed unless he had been heard by the court, adding that Mr Naek should file an application to raise the apprehensions he had expressed.

The court, however, asked the FIA not to summon Mr Zardari and Ms Talpur or any one contesting elections until the polls were over, emphasising again that the elections would be held in a fair and impartial manner.

The court regretted the role of the State Bank of Pakistan which it said had taken three days to open the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams Fund and even avoided to take up the call of the apex court’s registrar.

Senior counsel Raza Kazim told the court that he was representing 76-year-old Anwar Majeed who was a heart patient. The court said that the case was in preliminary stage and Mr Majeed would be summoned whenever needed.

On a query, the FIA DG told the court that the banks had started cooperating with the agency but the court said that the FIA would need the assistance of experts, offering to appoint a JIT of experts with clean background.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018