KARACHI: The noose may be tightening around the Pakistan Peoples Party’s senior leadership, as a banking court on Friday transferred a money laundering case involving Rs4.14 billion against its co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and 17 other suspects to an accountability court in Rawalpindi for trial.
Judge Tariq Mahmood Khoso observed that the case was a small component of the larger whole and the Supreme Court had already transferred its investigation to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) authorities in Islamabad on the basis of material collected by a joint investigation team (JIT).
Therefore, he accepted an application of NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal pleading for the transfer of the case to an accountability court in Rawalpindi under Section 16-A (a) of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999.
Judge Khoso recalled that interim pre-arrest bail granted to Mr Zardari, Ms Talpur and 17 others in August had been extended 15 times since the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had failed to file a final charge-sheet in the case eight months after filing an interim charge-sheet, showing the siblings and some businessmen and bankers as absconders.
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Earlier, Ms Talpur and the 16 bankers and businessmen appeared in the banking court for confirmation of their interim pre-arrest bail.
However, Mr Zardari, who had skipped two previous hearings since he was attending the National Assembly session, unusually approached the court late and after pronouncement of the order.
The siblings’ defence counsel Farooq Naek told reporters that he would consult his clients on the future course of action. However, Mr Zardari and Ms Talpur did not immediately approach the Sindh High Court to seek bail in the case.
Mr Naek feared that the NAB chief could issue orders to arrest Mr Zardari and Ms Talpur since an FIR had already been registered by the FIA and the inquiry transferred to NAB.
In reply to a question, he said that the NAB might treat the FIR as a reference and file it in the accountability court.
Judge Khoso ruled that the provisions of Section 16-A(a) of the NAO were clear, self-contained and self-executor and added that there was no option left for a court to refuse an application made under section 16-A (a) as the offence was not a scheduled offence of the NAO.
He overruled contention of the defence counsel that the offences allegedly committed by the PPP leaders and others were ‘scheduled offences’ which did not fall within the ambit of the NAO. He observed that the condition of scheduled offence had already been done away through an amendment made in 2002, where the words of ‘a scheduled’ had been substituted with the word ‘any’.
Judge Khoso overruled the case laws cited by the defence counsel as being “distinguishable from the facts and circumstances of the present case”, observing that in none of these cases the Supreme Court had taken notice of the matter of present nature, had formed a JIT or had transferred the investigation to NAB as in the present case.
In his arguments, NAB’s special prosecutor argued that the NAO had over-ridding effect on all other laws for the time being and referred to the SC judgement passed in case of Sardar Ahmed Sial and others versus NAB and others.
The FIA’s special prosecutor had also given his consent to allow the NAB chief’s application.
However, the defence lawyers for the PPP leaders and other suspects opposed the plea, arguing that the present case could not be transferred to the accountability court of Rawalpindi on the NAB chief’s application in view of provisions of Section 16-A(b) of the NAO as no offence cognisable under the NAO had allegedly been made out from the contents of the FIR registered by the FIA.
They contended that there was no specific directive of the SC in its Jan 7 order for transfer of the case from the banking court to the accountability court of Rawalpindi.
They added that for inter-provincial transfer of a case, the transfer application was to be made before the apex court under Section 16-A(b) of the NAO, but the NAB prosecutor had neither moved such an application before the apex court nor the court itself had passed any order for transfer of the present case. They requested the banking court to dismiss the NAB chief’s transfer plea.
Meanwhile, the administrative judge of the accountability courts Dr Sher Bano Karim granted four-day transitory remand of a suspect, Najam-uz-Zaman, for his production in the accountability court of Islamabad in connection with the money laundering case.
NAB officials said that the suspect was arrested from Shahra-e-Faisal, Karachi, on Thursday night.
Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2019