The fake accounts case on Monday took a fresh turn as two of the accused expressed their willingness before an accountability court in Islamabad to become approvers against PPP President Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur.
The case was earlier being heard in a banking court in Karachi but had been shifted to an accountability court in Islamabad upon an appeal by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Zardari, Talpur and others accused nominated in the case appeared before the court amid tight security, with at least 1,650 security officials deployed within and around the judicial complex to avoid any untoward situation during the hearing.
As the hearing began, Kiran Aman and Noreen Sultan who are among the 30 accused nominated in the case by NAB told the court that they are ready to testify as witnesses and had filed an application in this regard with the NAB chairman, but the bureau had named them as accused instead.
The accountability judge asked NAB to verify, using the case record, if Kiran and Noreen had informed the court of their willingness to testify in the case against the other accused persons.
Both the accused had filed applications before the court saying they could not afford to engage a defence lawyer.
Zardari, while talking to reporters as he sat in court, said he was seated in the same chair former premier Nawaz Sharif used to sit in during his trial in the Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment references. Zardari described Nawaz Sharif as "a noble man" and himself as "a humble one".
He added that the establishment should be asked about the trial of former military dictator Pervez Musharraf.
The court marked the attendance of the accused persons and ordered the distribution of copies of the reference among their lawyers. The case was adjourned until April 16, and both Zardari and Talpur left the premises without further interaction with the press outside the court.
Meanwhile, police arrested two female workers of the PPP from outside the federal judicial complex as they were trying to enter into the accountability court to witness the appearance of their leaders.
'Another clash possible'
A senior police official told Dawn on Sunday that as Zardari and Talpur would appear before the court today, the possibility of another clash with the party workers could not be ruled out.
"Last time a large number of PPP workers had arrived from outside Islamabad so personnel of law enforcement agencies have been deputed at the entry points of the city. Moreover, workers who were involved in the clash have been identified and would be arrested if they arrived in the city. Apart from it, reserve force has been directed to remain on a standby as they can be called any time," he said.
Last month, when PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his father appeared before the accountability court, PPP workers had clashed with police, leading to at least 20 workers being arrested, while cases were registered against 70 workers including Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar and Raja Shakil Abbasi. Nine police officials and a journalist were injured in the tussle.
The FIA had named Asif Zardari, Faryal Talpur, Omni Group chairman Anwar Majeed, his sons and over 10 others as suspects in an interim charge sheet filed in the banking court in August 2018 for alleged money laundering to the tune of over Rs4 billion after 29 ‘fake’ bank accounts were found opened in three banks — Summit Bank, Sindh Bank and United Bank Ltd.
On March 15, 2019, a banking court had granted NAB's request to transfer the case to the accountability court in Rawalpindi for trial.
The orders had been given after the Supreme Court — which had taken suo motu notice of the case and constituted a JIT to probe the matter — referred the matter to NAB to launch its probe independently and complete it within two months.
With additional reporting by Inamullah Khattak.