ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speaks to reporters after appearing before NAB on Thursday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speaks to reporters after appearing before NAB on Thursday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday appeared before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the fake bank accounts case for his alleged transaction with JV Opal-225, a joint venture of real estate tycoon Malik Riaz and former president Asif Ali Zardari, and warned the government that his party would not tolerate what he called “economic massacre” of people.

He claimed that the former chief justice of Pakistan had declared him an “innocent” man and said that in case he was arrested his sister Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari would become his voice.

On the other hand, Spe­cial Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar said Mr Bhutto-Zardari had never been declared innocent by anyone.

A NAB official told Dawn that summoning of the PPP chairman was a step towards an action against the main shareholder [Malik Riaz of Bahria Town] of the firm.

Says economic massacre won’t be allowed; PM’s aide says PPP chairman has never been declared innocent

Mr Bhutto-Zardari appeared before the anti-graft watchdog for the third time. He was given a questionnaire containing 35 questions which he has to reply in two weeks.

Later, the PPP chairman, accompanied by senior party leaders, held a press conference outside the NAB office and termed his summoning a “political victimisation” by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.

He said people were fed up with the unprecedented price hike and now the PPP would not come under any government pressure but stop economic massacre of the masses being committed by the PTI regime. “We will not tolerate economic massacre of people even for a single day. Whatever pressure you will exert, no PPP worker is ready to retreat or surrender.”

Mr Bhutto-Zardari wondered why he had been asked to appear before NAB despite the fact that he had never been involved in any malpractice and corruption. He said that over a year ago the then chief justice had declared him not guilty, adding that he had himself presented before NAB investigators three times and also answered their questions.

In January 2019, the Supreme Court had, while hearing the fake accounts case, ordered that the names of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah be removed from the no-fly list as well as from a joint investigation team’s report on a probe into the case. The apex court had also ordered that the case be forwarded to NAB and directed the anti-graft watchdog to complete its investigation within two months.

“I received a questionnaire in May last year; then all of a sudden another notice was issued in Dece­mber,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said, adding that he was recently issued a notice after the PPP announced a campaign against the PTI government.

The PPP chief said that he had a detailed talk with the NAB team and they had issued him a questionnaire. “When I wasn’t even a public office holder at the time, what sense did it make that NAB summon me?” he asked.

In his reaction to the PPP chairman’s remarks, PM’s special assistant Shahzad Akbar said at a press conference that the former was behaving as if he was so “untouchable” that an institution could not call him for questioning. He said Mr Bhutto-Zardari was misleading the nation and his lawyers were misguiding him [Bilawal]. “NAB summoned Bilawal for investigation due to his involvement in different cases,” he added.

Mr Akbar said the PPP chairman was twisting facts by misguiding people that he was only seven years old when these properties were bought. “However, the fact is that these properties were bought during 2011-14 when his father Zardari was president of Pakistan and both Zardari and his sister are co-accused in these cases,” he said, adding that Mr Bhutto-Zardari was also being investigated in the JV Opal-226 case since the Zardari Group had been accused of money laundering of Rs1.25 billion.

The PM’s assistant claimed that the amount had been laundered through various accounts by taking the advantage of the corporate sector. He alleged that Mr Bhutto-Zardari had made the properties with the laundered money, including Bilawal House and agricultural lands. “They should prove their innocence before the court of law as no one will be allowed unlawful privileges in Naya Pakistan,” he added.

Mr Akbar explained that the name of Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had been removed from the Exit Control List to ensure smooth continuity of the affairs of the Sindh government, and not because he was an innocent person.

Senior PPP leaders, including former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, party’s Punjab president Qamar Zaman Kaira, Senator Sherry Rehman and secretary general Nayyar Bukhari, and activists and supporters gathered outside the NAB’s old headquarters in Islamabad ahead of Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s appearance.

Addressing a press conference along with other PPP leaders, Mr Kaira said not only his party’s leaders but courts were also taking about “NAB-Niazi nexus”.

Sherry Rehman said the PPP chairman could not be made a party in the case NAB was questioning him about as he was not a public office holder when the alleged corruption was committed.

The anti-graft watchdog had handed over a questionnaire containing 32 questions to Mr Bhutto-Zardari during his brief appearance on May 29, 2019.

NAB had shifted the fake bank accounts and money laundering case from its Karachi office to Rawal­pindi office last year. The bureau is investigating 172 important personalities, including Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Asif Zardari, Faryal Talpur, former Sindh chief minister Qaim Ali Shah, provincial minister Anwar Siyal and Malik Riaz, in the case.

Their names were placed on the ECL, but the names of Mr Bhutto-Zardari and CM Murad Ali Shah were later removed from the no-fly list on the SC directive.

The anti-graft watchdog, which has been investigating the fake bank accounts and money laundering case against the PPP leaders and others, filed eight references in an accountability court on Dec 9, 2018.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2020