LAHORE: A joint investigation team (JIT) probing money laundering of billions of rupees through fake bank accounts told the Supreme Court on Monday that a close nexus had been found between a troika of Zardari Group, Bahria Town and Omni Group.

A report submitted by the JIT to a two-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar revealed that at least 29 bank accounts had been identified as fake which had been used for money laundering of Rs42 billion. On the directive of the bench, a summary chart of the report was also displayed on a screen projector installed in the courtroom and the JIT members gave a briefing on it to the judges.

The counsel for Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur and Anwar Majeed and Abdul Ghani Majeed of the Omni group were present in the courtroom.

The JIT comprises Addi­tional Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Ahsan Sadiq, Brig Shahid Pervez of the Inter-Services Intelli­gence, Muhammad Afzal of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Nauman Aslam of the National Accountability Bur­­­eau and Imran Latif of the Federal Board of Revenue.

Investigators find close nexus between Zardari, Bahria and Omni groups; SC bans sale, purchase of properties of four companies

The summary chart displayed in the courtroom showed that the trio used to transfer billions of rupees of kickbacks and commissions through their front companies and contractors/builders. It said the JIT explored 11,500 bank accounts of 924 individuals and companies associated with the fake accounts.

It revealed that kickbacks of Rs1.36bn had been laundered through bank accounts of 19 contractors. Similarly, Rs10.2bn had been laundered through accounts of Bahria Town. It said Zain Malik, son-in-law of Malik Riaz, and Mushtaq Ahmad, a former secretary of former president Zardari, had been maintaining the accounts of Bahria Town.

A JIT member informed the bench that Mushtaq Ahmad was also involved in model Ayan Ali’s money laundering case.

At this, Chief Justice Nisar asked FIA Director General Bashir Memon about the whereabouts of Ayan Ali and wondered about her prolonged stay out of the country on the pretext of medical treatment. “She is a young girl. What kind of treatment has she been getting abroad for a long time?” asked the chief justice.

Continuing with the briefing, another JIT member stated that a 64-storey tower namely “Bahria Icon” being constructed in Karachi’s Clifton area was owned by Asif Zardari and Zain Malik through companies of their frontmen. He said the tower was being constructed on a controversial land, while a large portion of Bin Qasim Park had also been encroached upon by it. He said it was a controversial project of over Rs50bn.

He said that an amount of Rs1.22bn had been paid to Faryal Talpur by JV-OPAL-225 — a venture of Zardari and Bahria groups. He said the building of the company was established on a land owned by Hakim Ali Zardari, father of Mr Zardari.

To a court’s query, the JIT member said Bilawal House in Bahria Town, Lahore, was owned by the Zardari Group. He said that initially the property was gifted to Mr Zardari by Bahria Town, but it was not accepted and half of its cost of Rs170 million had been paid so far by the Zardari Group to the housing society.

When asked by the chief justice, the JIT members confirmed that they found a close nexus of money laundering between the Zardari Group, Bahria Town and Omni Group.

The JIT report further revealed that the Omni Group had outstanding loans of Rs53.4bn obtained from the Sindh Bank in violation of rules by establishing its front companies. It said the expenditures of the Zardari family had also been met through accounts of the Omni Group to the tune of Rs12m or so. The expenses included purchase of sports equipment, dogs’ feed, goats for charity (sadqa), dry cleaning, heaters, furniture, birthday functions, lunch for Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, etc. The report said loans of the Omni Group were restructured for at least 83 times, whereas a default loan from the National Bank of Pakistan had yet to be recovered for the last 10 years.

A JIT member told the court that the Omni Group carried out illegal constructions on plots reserved for amenities, temples, library and gymnasium by converting their titles. He said the investigation into the fake accounts case revealed that at least Rs1.4bn had been transferred out of country through “hundi and hawala”.

The JIT in its report also recommended NAB cases and freezing of assets of the Zardari Group and its front companies. The JIT members suggested that all the persons involved in money laundering needed to be placed on the Exit Control List.

The chief justice directed the JIT to approach the Ministry of Interior for this purpose.

The court would summon Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah along with his whole team at Islamabad, observed Chief Justice Nisar when the JIT complained about non-cooperation on the part of the provincial government.

During a dialogue with Anwar Majeed’s counsel Shahid Hamid, the chief justice said he would have expertise in corporate law but he should not try to undermine the court.

Advocate Hamid asked the chief justice to refer the matter to a trial court, saying the Supreme Court could not hold a trial. There would be no right to appeal available for the aggrieved parties if the apex court conducted the trial, he argued.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice Nisar reminded Advocate Farooq Naek, the counsel of the Zardari family, that plunderers of billions of rupees would be held accountable.

The chief justice directed the Zardari Group, Omni Group, Bahria Town, Faryal Talpur and others, including contractors/builders, to file their comments on the JIT report by Dec 31. The chief justice also summoned Malik Riaz to appear before the court at the next hearing.

In the meantime, the bench banned sale/purchase and transfer of properties owned by the three groups and their front companies, including JV-Opal-225, Park Lane, Parthenon and Bahria Icon.

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2018