The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe alleged laundering of billions of rupees through fake bank accounts in connivance with bankers and others to suspected beneficiaries, including former president Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur.
A Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) JIT has been investigating a 2015 case regarding fake accounts and fictitious transactions conducted through 29 ‘benami’ accounts in Summit Bank, Sindh Bank and UBL.
Seven individuals, including Zardari and Talpur, were said to be involved in using those accounts for suspicious transactions which were initially found to have totalled Rs35 billion. The accounts were allegedly used to channel funds received through kickbacks.
While hearing a suo motu case regarding a delay in the FIA probe into the case, the SC had earlier deliberated over the formation of an investigation team, but said that it would only be constituted once the defence and prosecution lawyers concluded their arguments.
The three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, however, has not decided who will be a part of the JIT. The apex court is also in favour of halting the proceedings in the trial court.
The CJP described the case as a "big corruption case".
"It is necessary to have a mega corruption case probed by a JIT," he said, adding that the court had constituted JITs to probe a number of similar cases.
Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked FIA Director General Bashir Memon why his team wanted the inclusion of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence officials in the JIT, to which Memon responded that the FIA wanted officials belonging to the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, the Federal Board of Revenue, and the State Bank of Pakistan, along with ISI and MI officials on the JIT.
"Whether or not the people being investigated talk is up to them," Memon said.
The DG FIA added that investigating officers' lives have been threatened.
Meanwhile, during the investigations, the FIA officials have unearthed two more companies of the Zardari group, identified as Landmark and National. The companies were identified while scouring through the data in hard disks recovered during the raid on Khoski Sugar Mill by FIA officials.
The bank accounts in the name of these companies have been opened at a private bank in Defense Phase I area of Karachi. Moreover, Zardari and his sisters Faryal and Azra Afzal have been identified as shareholders in the company.
'Who put the money in accounts?'
Shahid Hamid, the counsel for the Omni Group, its chairman Anwar Majeed and Ghani Majeed rejected the creation of a JIT to probe the case, and expressed concerns over the media coverage of his clients.
"We will control the media, but tell me why we shouldn't create a JIT," the CJP responded. "This is not some small case. Did angels put the money in the bank accounts?" he asked. "We will find out who the money belongs to."
"For now, we are not accusing anyone," the top judge said. "Why is the Omni Group shying away from the JIT?" he asked.
The CJP said that the court wanted to create a JIT in order to uncover corruption, adding: "It is possible that the JIT results are in your favour."
FIA Director General Bashir Memon told the bench today that during a search of Majeed's office, a company in Dubai had been discovered.
Memon said that the company's accounts contained millions of dirhams. "Through foreign currency accounts money is being sent to England and France," he said, adding that the amount was being transferred through fake bank accounts.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan asked Memon if the FIA had any experts skilled in foreign currency. The CJP agreed that an advanced, modern team was needed.
Attorney General of Pakistan Anwar Mansoor pointed out that certain problems arose when investigating banks and other such institutions outside Pakistan. "The problem is that we can't get the help of skilled private personnel," he explained, adding that the National Database and Registration Authority had the help of skilled IT personnel.
The CJP said that the creation of a JIT was necessary. "We can have a JIT investigate all over again," he said. "We want to bring the truth to light. A fraud worth billions has taken place."
Munir Bhatti, the counsel for Nimr Majeed, Mustafa Majeed and Ali Kamal Majeed was present in the court. He said that Ali Kamal’s six-year-old daughter had been unwell abroad and that if is client was cleared by the court, he would travel to visit her.
"No one will leave the country until we conclude the investigation," the CJP asserted, adding: "We must be convinced if someone is unwell."
The top judge observed that whenever a big fish was caught by the DG FIA, he became sick. "Even young people seem to get sick when they are caught," he said.
Bhatti said that since the family members did not hold any public positions, a Panama-style JIT ─ as earlier suggested by the court ─ could not be created to probe the case.
Justice Bandial asked the lawyer what rights of his would be impinged upon due to the creation of a JIT and wondered what objections he could have to institutions investigating the case asking other state institutions for assistance in the matter.
“Whose Rs35bn are these? Where did they come from, and where did they go?" the CJP asked the Omni Group lawyer. "We want to find out, Shahid Hamid, whether any angels were behind this."
The CJP said that the investigation of the case could be carried out in Sindh, but the DG FIA was of the opinion that it should take place in Islamabad as the MI's help would be necessary for probing call records and other data.
Memon said that because of the SC's notices, banks had handed over their records, and that in this case the heads of the banks were involved themselves.