An accountability court in Islamabad on Tuesday granted the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) 11-day physical remand of former president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, a day after his arrest.
Accountability court judge Mohammad Arshad Malik announced the decision and ordered that Zardari be presented before the court again on June 21.
NAB's grounds for Zardari's arrest:
- Whitening ill-gotten money through fake accounts
- Acquiring stakes in Summit Bank through fraudulent means
- Using the Omni Group as a hedge between himself and fake accounts
- Receiving 'millions of rupees' from two fake accounts
- Getting unauthorised payments released for construction of a Karachi plot
Earlier, the former president was brought to the court by a team of the accountability bureau.
During the court proceedings, NAB requested 14-day physical remand of the PPP co-chairman, which was opposed by Zardari's counsel Farooq H. Naek.
The accountability bureau provided evidence for Zardari's arrest, saying that there were eight solid grounds for Zardari's arrest.
According to NAB, the former president made a plan to legitimise illegal income through transactions in fake accounts opened in Summit Bank Limited and had used frontmen and benamidars for money laundering.
An analysis of these fake accounts, including A-One International, Lucky International, Logistic Trading, Royal International, Umair Associates, etc., revealed that Zardari had been "remotely controlling the transaction, operations and ultimate benefit taking place in the fake accounts", a NAB document read.
The bureau accused the former president of having acquired stakes in Summit Bank through his frontman AG Majid by fraudulently showing Nasser Abdullah Hussain Lootah (a UAE National) through a foreign company namely Suroor Investments Ltd Mauritius holding 1.7 billion shares (67 per cent ) worth Rs14.6 billion and routing his laundered money under Lootah's name and portfolio in the bank.
"The evidence reveal[s] that you placed Omni Group as a hedge between you and fake accounts to distance yourself from the transactions of the fake accounts and you in connivance with your front men belonging to Omni Group opened the fake accounts for obtaining / depositing and withdrawing the amounts and ultimately laundering the money in collusion with the president of Summit Bank Mr Hussain Lawai," the NAB document said, addressing Zardari.
It also alleged that the PPP co-chairman in collusion with other accused got released unauthorised payments from the sundry account of Summit Bank for the alleged construction of Plot G-2, Block-2 in Karachi's Clifton area, "thus acquiring illegal gains" for himself and the other co-accused.
NAB prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi said that prima facie, Zardari was involved in mega money laundering through fake accounts. He said that the former president was a beneficiary of fake accounts and added that the Omni Group was used for fake accounts.
He said that the suspect had been arrested and the bureau required remand in order to conduct investigations.
"First tell us, on what basis has Zardari been arrested," said Judge Malik, to which the NAB prosecutor responded that he would read out the basis for Zardari's arrest.
Naek said that the Supreme Court had given NAB two months for investigations and the two-month respite had "long ended".
He said that during the investigation, the NAB chairman had the authority to make an arrest. However, now a reference has been filed and the time had passed.
'NAB should have asked for permission'
Naek said that arrests warrants and the grounds for Zardari's arrest were not provided to them.
"We are finding out the reasons for [his] arrest right now," he said.
The former president also submitted a request for additional facilities in NAB lock-up. He asked for permission to keep one personal caretaker with him and for all medical facilities to be provided to him.
"I am a sugar patient and at night my sugar gets low," Zardari told the court while requesting an attendant who could check his sugar [levels] at night.
The NAB prosecutor said that this was a matter regarding the former president's life. He said that the bureau had no objection to this nor should the court.
"The attendant will not sit with me for 24 hours, when they are required they will be called," Zardari said.
Zardari's medical certificates were also presented in court. The accountability bureau informed the court that following the former president's arrest, his medical examination was conducted. The NAB prosecutor said that Zardari was completely healthy and fit.
Prior to his arrival at the court, a three-member team of the Polyclinic conducted a medical examination of the former president. According to the NAB sources, Zardari was found to be fit for physical remand.
The report was presented to the accountability court judge in his chambers.
During the hearing, Judge Malik asked why NAB had not sought the court's permission for Zardari's arrest.
"[The] reference is ongoing in this court, so NAB should have asked for permission," he said.
Zardari's counsel responded, "The fact is that NAB did not even take this court into confidence."
The NAB prosecutor said that the accountability bureau had not arrested Zardari themselves, adding that the high court had rejected his bail after which he was arrested.
In an informal conversation while leaving the accountability court, Zardari strongly condemned the arrest of Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz.
On Monday, a 15-member NAB team, accompanied by police personnel, had arrested Zardari from his residence in Islamabad after the cancellation of his pre-arrest bail by the Islamabad High Court in the fake bank accounts case.
A number of party workers as well as two of Zardari's children — PPP Chairperson Bilawal and youngest daughter Aseefa — had seen the former president off as he left from Zardari House to the NAB Rawalpindi office in Islamabad in a black bulletproof vehicle.
The PPP co-chairman's arrest had prompted a strong reaction from the opposition and sporadic protests by PPP workers in various parts of the country, mostly in the party-ruled Sindh province.
Terming his father’s arrest an act of “political victimisation” by the PTI government, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari while addressing a presser declared it a negation of Article 10-A of the Constitution that guaranteed the right of fair trial to every citizen, but appealed to party workers to remain calm and wait for party directives.
The main opposition PML-N had questioned the timing of the arrest, alleging that it had been done to divert public attention from the "IMF-prepared anti-people budget" that the government would present today.
The IHC bench had also cancelled the bail of Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur, a co-accused in the case, but she was not arrested as her warrants had not been issued, a NAB official told Dawn. He said Talpur would be arrested within a day or two.
On Monday, the IHC bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani in a short order stated "for the reasons to be recorded later, instant petition is dismissed and ad-interim bail granted to the petitioner vide order dated March 28, 2019 is recalled".
The same bench on March 28 had granted interim bail to Zardari, Talpur and others in the case related to transaction of Rs150 million to their private company through alleged fake bank accounts.
The case was originally registered with the Federal Investigation Agency and was filed before a banking court in Karachi. NAB later transferred this case to its Rawalpindi directorate.
The courtroom was packed with several key PPP leaders including former primer ministers Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Rehman Malik, Farhatullah Babar, Latif Khosa, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar and representatives of the Peoples Lawyers Forum in attendance.
However, Zardari and Talpur had left the IHC just before the pronouncement of the order.
The judges had observed that non-appearance of the accused persons at the time of pronouncement of decision would be incorporated in the order sheet.
Farooq Naek, the counsel for Zardari, had argued that the alleged case was related to transactions of Rs14 billion through alleged fake accounts, but the prosecution conceded that Rs150 million transactions had been done in the name of Zardari Group.
Naek said Zardari and his sister both were leading sugar cane growers of the region and they sold their crops to Omni Group and in return received cash through banks. He said Rs150 million was in fact the payment for sugar cane that they had sold to the sugar mills owned by Omni Group.
Additional prosecutor general of NAB Jahanzeb Bharwana had said the anti-graft watchdog was investigating billions of rupees transactions through 28 bank accounts for which the investigation team required custody of the accused persons. He said the NAB chairman had already issued arrest warrants for Zardari.
After the court order, NAB had issued a letter to the National Assembly speaker informing him about the arrest of Zardari.