Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Thursday denied that he had ordered former president Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur's names be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) in connection to a probe regarding suspicious transactions through 29 'benami' accounts in mainstream banks.
Although certain media reports quoted Interior Ministry officials as denying the development on Monday, caretaker Interior Minister Azam Khan had confirmed on Wednesday ─ contrary to the CJP's statement today ─ that the SC had directed the ministry to place Zardari and Talpur's names on the ECL on Monday, and that the ministry had complied with the orders.
CJP Nisar in today's hearing also asked the Federal Investigation Agency to refrain from questioning both PPP leaders until after the July 25 polls.
"Tomorrow no one should be able to make excuses that the elections have been rigged," the CJP said.
Before the elections, all suspects apart from Zardari and Talpur should be included in the investigation, the CJP said.
Justice Nisar, who is heading the two-judge bench hearing the case, also remarked: "It is necessary to clarify which suspects' names have been placed on the ECL. Are Faryal Talpur and Asif Zardari suspects?"
"If they are not suspects, then why did the media report that their names have been placed on the ECL?" he asked.
"We have still not placed their names on the ECL," he said, adding: "This impression must be eliminated."
The CJP said that whosoever's names had been placed on the ECL would remain there until August 6. If someone turns out to be innocent, their names will then be removed, he added.
"We took this notice on the basis of media reports," the CJP said. "The corruption scandal should be investigated to reassure poor citizens."
Zardari's lawyer, Farooq H. Naek, told the court that his client is being accused of holding Rs15 million in his accounts. He told the court that the PPP co-chairman had no ties to the Zardari Group. "He is not even the group's director," Naek added.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan said that those who haven't played a role in the case should not be harassed.
The CJP asserted there must be a fair probe into the matter, to which Naek responded that the probe is being conducted by FIA's Najaf Mirza, whom Zardari had earlier filed a case against.
The chief justice said that a new joint investigation team (JIT) could be set up to probe the case, which concerns a 2015 FIA investigation into fake accounts and fictitious transactions worth up to Rs35 billion conducted through 29 ‘benami’ accounts in Summit Bank, Sindh Bank and UBL.
Seven individuals are believed to be involved in the suspicious transactions, and the fake accounts have allegedly been used to channel funds received through heavy bribes and kickbacks.
"There is already a JIT probing the matter," Naek told the court, requesting that Najaf Mirza be withdrawn from the FIA probe into the case.
The court, however, rejected the request saying that it could not replace Mirza until a complete picture of the situation emerged.
He added that the court did not wish to impact the impression of politicians, and said that the hearing of this case should be adjourned until after the elections.
Summit Bank Vice President Hussain Lawai, who is currently in FIA custody, was presented in court today.
Lawai's lawyer told the court that the bank's investment activities had been negatively affected by the 'media campaign'.
Both judges deliberated over how the media can be stopped from covering the matter.
The lawyer expressed fear that the entire bank may collapse as a result of the court case against it.
"The people's only issue will be that their money is safe," the CJP responded, asking Lawai: "What do you have to say about where the Rs35bn came from?"
"The cases regarding the accounts did not reach me," he told the court.
The bank must provide assurance that fake accounts are not opened, Justice Ahsan said. "Fake accounts have been opened," he asserted.
The lawyer, however, denied that fake accounts were opened.
But the FIA director general stepped in to tell the court that the administration had opened the fake accounts themselves.
The date of the next hearing has been set as August 6.