Former president Asif Ali Zardari speaks to reporters after appearing before the accountability court on Monday.—White Star
Former president Asif Ali Zardari speaks to reporters after appearing before the accountability court on Monday.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: The ‘fake accounts’ case on Monday took a new turn as two of the accused expressed their willingness before an accountability court in Islamabad to turn approver in the case against former president and co-chairperson of the PPP Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and others.

Meanwhile, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed a ‘Pink Residency’ reference against a close aide to Mr Zardari in the accountability court, while the Islamabad High Court (IHC) extended interim bail granted to the former chief minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah.

Mr Zardari, Ms Talpur, and the other accused persons appeared before the court amid tight security, with at least 1,650 security officials deployed within and around the judicial complex.

At the outset, Kiran Aman and Noreen Sultan, who are the employees of the Summit Bank and amongst the 30 accused persons, told the court that they were willing to testify as witnesses and had filed an application in this regard with the NAB chairman, but instead of treating them as witness the bureau had implicated them as accused.

NAB files reference against close aide to Zardari; IHC extends interim bail to Qaim

Judge Mohammad Arshad Malik asked NAB to verify, using the case record, if Ms Aman and Ms Sultan had informed the court of their willingness to testify in the case against the other accused persons.

Ms Aman had allegedly admitted and verified the fake/forged signatures of account holder A-one International as genuine and Ms Sultan had admitted the forged signatures of the account holder annexure for change of signatures.

Both the accused women had filed applications before the court saying that they could not afford to engage a defence lawyer, but the judge directed them to file their applications separately.

Mr Zardari, while talking to reporters as he sat in court, said he was seated in the same chair as former premier Nawaz Sharif, describing the latter 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 hearing of the case was adjourned until April 16, and both Mr Zardari and Ms Talpur left the premises without further interaction with the press. Meanwhile, the police arrested two female PPP workers outside the federal judicial complex as they were trying to enter the accountability court to witness the appearance of their leaders.

The FIA had named Mr Zardari, Ms 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 the transfer of the case to the accountability court in Rawalpindi. The orders were 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.

IHC extends interim bail to ex-CM Sindh

Also on Monday, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) extended the pre-arrest interim bail for former chief minister Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, in the ‘fake accounts’ case till April 30 and restrained NAB from arresting Mr Shah.

IHC’s division bench, comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, resumed the hearing on Mr Shah’s petition seeking pre-arrest bail.

Pink Residency reference

Further, NAB filed the ‘Pink Residency’ reference against a close aide of Mr Zardari, as well as other senior serving and retired officers of Sindh Board of Revenue. The persons accused include Aftab Memon, a former secretary of the Sindh Land Utilisation Department, Omni Group’s Mr Majeed, and seven others. The reference alleged that the accused persons had, in connivance, illegally regularised two plots of 23 acres and 7 acres respectively and caused Rs4 bn loss to the national exchequer.

The reference is under the scrutiny of the registrar office of the accountability court.

Nimar Majeed granted bail

IHC granted pre-arrest interim bail to Khawaja Nimar Majeed till April 16, who is also named in the ‘inquiry into the fake accounts’ case. His counsel told the court that NAB had not provided the requisite details.

The court issued adjourned the hearing till next week.

PPP’s reaction

While Mr Zardari and Ms Talpur did not respond journalist’ questions, the central PPP leadership criticised the government for deploying what they claimed were 5,000 security personnel during the proceedings.

Qamar Zaman Kaira said that the government had on the one hand offered the PPP containers to use to stage sit-in, but on the other hand it is afraid of a handful of political workers.

Sardar Latif Khan Khosa said that “We insisted that the court proceed in the reference but NAB was seeking time,” adding that once the PPP decided upon a sit-in, it could not be stopped.

Meanwhile, former chief minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah, and former senator Farhatullah Babar, in a joint press conference criticised NAB for initiating ‘fake cases’ against the PPP leadership, saying that Sindh was being targeted in particular.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2019