KARACHI: PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari arrives to appear in the banking court on Monday.—AP
KARACHI: PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari arrives to appear in the banking court on Monday.—AP

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday ordered immediate removal of the names of Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah from the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report on the Rs35 billion fake bank accounts scam as well from the Exit Control List (ECL).

“Why was Bilawal Bhutto’s name mentioned in the JIT, for political point scoring?” wondered Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar while taking exception to the reference to the PPP chief in the JIT report as well as the ECL.

“Bilawal is an innocent person who is taking forward the legacy of his mother former prime minister Benazir Bhutto,” the chief justice, who was heading the three-judge SC bench, observed. Addressing the JIT’s counsel Faisal Siddqui, he said the JIT would have to clarify why the PPP chief was involved in the matter.

Wants Bilawal’s name also struck off no-fly list; asks NAB to probe fake bank accounts case independently in two months

The JIT had not even respected the chief minister, the chief justice regretted, wondering on whose dictation and order these names were mentioned in the report.

What interest of Pakistan the JIT had served or what service it had advanced for the cause of provincial harmony by adding the name of a chief minister without even involving him in the investigations, he deplored.

The court also ordered removal of the names of Farooq H. Naek, the counsel for former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur, and Asim Mansoor, a brother of Attorney General Anwar Mansoor, from the JIT report.

“We are not ready to accept the placing of the name of Bilawal Bhutto on ECL and his name be deleted forthwith to give him a clean slate. We do not want to demean the chief minister either,” the court observed.

The apex court referred the fake bank accounts case to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to launch its probe independently, but said the bureau could re-examine the role of the Sindh chief minister because he had been condemned unheard. NAB is required to complete its investigation in two months.

The JIT will, however, continue with its investigations and NAB can associate the JIT in its probe.

The counsel for the JIT explained that the name of Mr Bhutto-Zardari had been mentioned in the JIT report because he held 75 per cent shares in Park Lane Private Limited which had allegedly misappropriated Rs1.5bn.

In its report, the JIT had also recommended a directive for NAB to conduct a thorough inquiry, followed by filing of a reference against Asif Ali Zardari, his frontman Younas Kudwai, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and co-accused in the accountability court to recover the misappropriated amount of Rs1.5bn along with the total outstanding loan of Rs3.74bn in the Park Lane case.

Faisal Siddiqui contended that Khawaja Abdul Ghani Majeed of the Omni Group had in his voluntary statement admitted that the bank accounts being referred to as fake belonged to them.

Senior counsel Sardar Latif Khosa, while mentioning the case of Bilawal Bhutto, regretted that such attitude would annihilate political parties. Already such an environment had discouraged the business community from investments, while bureaucrats had stopped working only for the fear of being arraigned in cases, he said, adding that the entire system of governance had become hostage to their whims.

When Mr Khosa said the JIT report kept on haunting the Sindh government as it was being used as a political tool and attempts were being made for political destabilisation of the provincial government, the chief justice observed that one should remember that democracy was a great blessing and the fundamental rights being enjoyed by “us are secured only through democracy”.

Justice Nisar recalled that when everybody was saying that the 2018 general elections would not be held, he used to say that the court would not allow delay in the elections even for a minute. “We have taken the oath to safeguard democracy which is a commitment to the nation by us.”

During the hearing, the chief justice repeatedly observed that the court would take the entire case to its logical end. He wondered why every counsel had an obsession to rescue by hook or by crook Malik Riaz of the Bahria Town and said the court should not be compelled to convene a special bench to ask why Malik Riaz had not been arrested when voluminous evidence against him had come in the JIT report.

“Should we give him cover by holding Malik Riaz as the most honest person?” the chief justice asked. He said the hub of all activities was fake accounts and prima facie the JIT had brought forth a nexus between the Omni Group, politicians, the Sindh government and Bahria Town.

Attorney General Anwar Mansoor informed the bench that the federal cabinet had in line with the earlier court order referred the matter relating to the placing of 172 individuals on the ECL to a special committee of the interior ministry. The cabinet will review its decision of putting the names on the ECL at its next meeting on Jan 10.

The chief justice clarified that the JIT report was not a binding document and the court had to make up its own mind.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan said the JIT had made only recommendations and it was up to the court to accept or reject it and that it was for NAB to make out a reference if they found out anything on the basis of the report.

SECP rejoinder

Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan has filed a rejoinder stating that the JIT had not approached the SECP for comments or given it the opportunity to explain the correct legal position on the matter of acquisition of shares of Arif Habib Bank and Atlas Bank by Suroor Investment Ltd.

The SECP had followed up on the matter with all the three banks involved in the merger process for almost a year and a half, it said, adding that the proceedings under the Takeover Ordinance were only dropped after receipt of letters from the State Bank of Pakistan through which it was conclusively established that the transaction was part of rehabilitation/scheme of arrangement for revival of sick banks, which would ultimately stand merged through an order of the SBP.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2019