Zardari and Omni groups, Bahria Town barred from trading properties under investigation

Updated 24 Dec 2018

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PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari is under probe in the fake bank accounts case. — DawnNewsTV
PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari is under probe in the fake bank accounts case. — DawnNewsTV

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday banned the trading and transfers of the properties of the Zardari Group, Bahria Town and Omni Group which are mentioned in a report submitted by the joint investigation team (JIT) probing the fake bank accounts case.

PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari’s legal team — led by Farooq H. Naek and Lateef Khosa — appeared before a two-judge bench comprising Chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar and Justice Ijazul Ahsan at the Lahore registry.

As the hearing started, Chief Justice Nisar ordered that the summary of the JIT report be shown on a projector in the courtroom.

The chief justice berated the Omni Group owners, including Anwar Majeed who is one of the co-accused in the case.

"It seems that the haughtiness of Omni Group's owners has not diminished," Justice Nisar remarked. "[They have] embezzled the nation's billions and are still misbehaving."

Meanwhile, the JIT's findings linked the fake bank accounts to Zardari, claiming that the PPP co-chairperson's personal expenses were also paid through the accounts' funds.

Bilawal House's expenses were paid through fake accounts: JIT report

The report stated that payments for the upkeep of Bilawal House's pets and for 28 sacrificial goats was also made through the said fake bank accounts.

The chief justice expressed his surprise at the finding, saying: "The pet dogs' food and Rs2.7m payment of sacrificial goats was also made by Omni Group?"

Furthermore, the JIT report claimed that the expenses of Zardari family's residences in both Karachi and Lahore — commonly known as Bilawal House — were paid through fake bank accounts.

The chief justice asked if the Bilawal House in Lahore was built according to the law. To this, the JIT head replied that the Zardari Group had obtained Rs53.4 billion in loans, of which Rs24bn was secured from the Sindh Bank, even though the bank could only have advanced a Rs4bn loan.

"Who owns the Bilawal House in Lahore?" asked the judge.

"At first, it was a gift but the gift was later returned and half the payment was made to Bahria Town," the JIT head answered.

"Does it means that this is a troika of Bahria Group and Zardari Group?" the chief justice asked.

"They switched companies and made payments every time," the JIT rep said.

The chief justice pointed out that a payment of Rs15,000 for Bilawal's lunch was made by Omni Group. "This is not a major payment ... maybe he (Bilawal) is a shareholder but then he should declare it."

The JIT representative apprised the court that Bahria Icon Tower in Karachi was erected illegally on government land, adding that the 60-story skyscraper also encroaches on some of Bagh Ibne-Qasim's land.

When the judge asked who the owners of the said tower were, the JIT rep said that "Zardari Group holds 50 per cent shares in it, whereas Bahria Group and Dinshaw are also its shareholders."

"Who is this Dinshaw?" the judge asked.

"He is Asif Ali Zardari's frontman."

Regarding Zardari's sibling Faryal Talpur, the JIT report claimed that Rs1.2bn went into her account, from which land was procured in Tando Allahyar and Lahore.

Subsequently, the chief justice issued notices to Zardari, real estate tycoon Malik Riaz and his son-in-law Zain Malik, and ordered that the JIT's report be forwarded to all the accused. The top judge instructed Zardari's counsel to submit his reply on the report.

FIA told to contact interior ministry for ECL placements

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), whose JIT had compiled the report, asked the court to put the names of all the accused on the Exit Control List (ECL).

The chief justice told the FIA official to approach the interior ministry, saying that "they will take a decision regarding the ECL".

The judge, during the hearing today, asked about Bahria Town's Riaz, warning him to attend the hearing or else face arrest. "We are not dependent on anyone; if he doesn't come then we can have him arrested."

"Bahria's employees are not being paid, their electricity bills are not paid ... do [they think] we don't get it?" the judge asked.

"Now they themselves, and not the prosecution, will have to prove all this."

Towards the end of the hearing, the top judge remarked that the JIT's report cannot be deemed "final and complete". He suggested that Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah should bring all the documents and set up a camp office in Islamabad.

At one point, Majeed's lawyer Advocate Shahid Hamid contended the Supreme Court's right to hear the case against Omni Group, telling the top judge that "you cannot conduct a criminal trial."

"We can under Article 184," Justice Nisar countered.

Later on, Justice Nisar also inquired about the whereabouts of model Ayyan Ali, who has been absconding from trial in a currency smuggling case after fleeing abroad under false pretenses.

"Where is Ayyan Ali?" the top judge asked. "Did she leave Pakistan because she was unwell? If someone goes out of the country due to health concerns, is there a way to bring them back?"

The case was adjourned till December 31.

PPP rejects JIT report, dubs it 'ludicrous'

PPP rejected the JIT's report, with its leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, through his spokesperson, dubbing the report's findings "ludicrous".

"Stories were created of money laundering worth billions but the report made is about breakfasts, laundry bills and sacrificial goats," the spokesperson said.

Bilawal also expressed his disappointment at the Supreme Court's decision to not take notice of the JIT report's leakage, adding: "Even the family court gets its orders implemented. The Supreme Court is the top-most court."

Reacting to the JIT report, a spokesperson for Zardari said: "Today's situation has raised a number of questions regarding Pakistan's judicial system".

"Justice delivered in haste is, in fact, tantamount to trampling justice," the spokesperson said in a statement, alleging that the judiciary has currently chosen the path of administering justice in haste.

Last week, the banking court extended the interim bail of former president Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur till Jan 7.

Besides the ex-president and his sister, real estate tycoon Malik Riaz’s son-in-law Zain Malik and 14 other bankers and businessmen have been booked in the case pertaining to alleged laundering of Rs4.14 billion through 29 ‘fake’ bank accounts, while former chairman of the Pakistan Stock Exchange Hussain Lawai, Taha Raza, Anvar Majeed and Abdul Ghani Majeed have been detained for their alleged involvement in facilitating the transactions.

The FIA had detained ex-PSE chief Lawai and Taha Raza in July for allegedly facilitating opening of 29 ‘fake’ bank accounts in three private banks. A case was later registered against all the suspects under Sections 419 (cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document) and 109 (abetment) of the Pakistan Penal Code read with Section 5(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 and Sections 3 and 4 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010.