ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday hinted at constituting a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the Rs35 billion fake accounts case to probe charges against former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in a similar fashion as was done in the Panama Papers leaks case.

The observation came when Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) director general Bashir Memon requested the court to form a high-powered JIT, acknowledging that the amount laundered through the fake accounts was much higher than Rs35bn since 10,000 dubious transactions came into the notice of the FIA during investigations.

A three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had taken up a suo motu case regarding fake accounts revolving around a 2015 inquiry into the suspicious transactions when 29 ‘benami’ accounts were identified — 16 opened in the Summit Bank, eight in the Sindh Bank and five in the UBL. Seven individuals were found involved in transacting Rs35bn suspiciously. Pakistan Stock Exchange chairman Hussain Lawai, a close aide to former president Asif Zardari, and co-accused Taha Raza, unit corporate head of the Summit Bank, are already under FIA custody.

Farooq Naek accuses FIA of calling Faryal Talpur every other day and putting pressure on her for a confession

On Saturday, Faryal Talpur had approached the Supreme Court, seeking an order restraining the FIA from harassing, disparaging and defaming her as well as the reputation of her brother Asif Zardari.

During the proceedings on Monday, the chief justice observed a JIT similar to the one that investigated the Avenfield corruption reference against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif could be set up on the matter.

The FIA chief also suggested that the new JIT also include officials from the State Bank of Pakistan, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, chartered accountants and other experts.

Senior counsel Farooq H. Naek, representing Faryal Talpur, deplored that despite earlier directives of halting investigations against Mr Zardari and his sister, the FIA had declared Ms Talpur an absconder which amounted to pre-poll rigging. He alleged that the agency was calling his client every other day and putting pressure on her for a confession.

In a fresh report submitted to the court, the FIA claimed that a businessman from Karachi, who is a close associate of Mr Zardari, and certain government functionaries were also involved in the matter since an amount of Rs787 million was deposited by different government contractors in these fake accounts. Such heavy amounts would never have been arranged from such contractors without direct involvement of highly influential individuals who could force these government contractors to deposit such amounts which obviously were kickbacks, it added.

The report said that investigation into bank accounts inter-linkages showed that personal account of Mr Zardari was used to deposit Rs18.8m in the account of the Zardari Group (Pvt) Ltd. This showed that he was directly linked with the amount of the Zardari Group as no complaint of misuse of his name/account had ever been made to the authorities concerned, the FIA claimed, adding that since Mr Zardari had not joined the investigations despite issuance of three notices, the final analysis regarding the charges in the FIR against Mr Zardari and Ms Talpur was not yet completed. However, the interim challan has been submitted at the completion of the stipulated period, on July 21, to complete legal formalities.

The report said the account of the Zardari Group was used to deposit Rs30m in the suspicious bank accounts, besides an amount of Rs85m was transferred from the account of the Zardari Group to a suspected fake account titled Lucky International under the signatures of Ms Talpur. No complaint whatsoever was ever made by any of the directors regarding the misuse of their accounts to the authorities concerned which showed that these transactions were made with their connivance, it added.

The report said the account of the Zardari Group had substantial transactions from suspicious (fake) bank accounts from different companies — Lucky International, Umair Associates, A-One International and Tariq Associates. The same account was used to shift money to seven other accounts — Ocean Enterprises, Dream Traders, Lucky International, Owais Mazhar Tapi, Syed Abbas, Zakir Ansari and Saeed Fareed. The report claimed that these transactions of the Zardari Group clearly established closed linkages with the suspicious bank accounts of bogus companies.

When the FIA director general alleged that Sindh police were harassing witnesses, the apex court ordered Sindh IG Amjad Javed Saleemi to look into the matter and furnish a report by Aug 8.

The court adjourned the hearing till Aug 13.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2018

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