Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Pakistan: Ex-President Zardari and sister arraigned in money laundering case

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The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), tasked by the Supreme Court (SC) to probe the multi-billion-rupee money laundering scam, on Wednesday grilled former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and a witness from Nawab Shah over financial transactions carried out by the Zardari Group through fake bank accounts.

The JIT first interrogated Talpur for an hour after which her brother Zardari also appeared before the investigators and recorded his statement in a one-and-a-half-hour-long session. During this time, a witness who had come from Nawabshah was also summoned and his statement too was recorded.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and his father Asif Zardari are the chief executives of the Zardari Group, while Talpur is a director of the company. According to the JIT’s report, the FIA had found “sufficient evidence” against the top three PPP leaders.

The JIT had also summoned Bilawal for recording his statement, however, the PPP chief refused to appear in person. The JIT then sent a questionnaire to Bilawal, giving him until Nov 29, Thursday, to respond to the queries.

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The summons sent to Bilawal on Nov 22 stated: “Proceedings conducted so far have revealed that in your [Bilawal] capacity of Director of M/s Zardari Group Pvt Ltd. you are acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the matter and possess information/evidence which relates to the subject case/inquiry.”

The JIT secretary in his notice, ECW/HRC-39216-G/66/HJ/2018, informed the PPP chairman that he was required to produce the relevant record along with justifications pertaining to transactions made by Zardari Group Pvt. Ltd with a few fake accounts associated with Omni Group and other over a half dozen entities and individuals.

Investigators who had also sought record of around 210 entities from Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan, National Accountability Bureau, State Bank of Pakistan and government of Sindh, wanted Bilawal Bhutto’s viewpoint on M/s A-one International’s accounts in Summit Bank where transactions worth millions of rupees were allegedly made through his entity.

JIT also questioned Bilawal Bhutto as director of Zardari Group Pvt Ltd, where a sum of amount was accumulated through M/s Lucky International’s account ‘12120-311714135-339’ maintained at a private bank in Karachi. Investigators also want to question PPP Chairman about fake accounts maintained through M/s Umair Associates, M/s Ocean Enterprises and M/s Dream Trading and Company. These accounts carried more than 34 transactions worth around Rs130 million, according to a report.

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There was also a payment of Rs1.54 million of domestic water bill for the month of April 20, 2015 pertaining to House No, D-30, Block 3 Clifton from a fake account of M/s Royal International which was maintained at a private bank in Karachi, revealed the JIT notice.

On June 29, 2015 , Rs4.14 million were paid from a fake account, owned by M/s Logistic Trading, for food supplied to Bilawal House by M/s ‘The Deli’ restaurant, JIT’s notice further revealed. This account was maintained at a private bank in Karachi.

THE CASE:

Zardari and Talpur are being investigated as part of a corruption case relating to fake accounts and fictitious bank transactions worth Rs35 billion. The siblings face allegations that they had illegally channelled funds through the said accounts in connivance with the CEOs of major banks.

The case was initially registered in 2015 against former Pakistan Stock Exchange chairman Hussain Lawai, who is widely believed to be close to Zardari.

Later, seven individuals, including Zardari and Talpur, were said to have been found involved in using those accounts for suspicious transactions which totalled Rs35bn. The accounts were allegedly used to channel funds received through kickbacks.

On July 6, Lawai and banker Taha Raza were detained and booked for allegedly facilitating the opening of 29 ‘fake’ accounts through which suspicious transactions were made to different companies, including M/s Zardari Group.

Initially, Zardari and Talpur avoided appearing before the agency and expressed their distrust in the FIA officials, but later joined the probe after a banking court in Karachi issued their arrest warrants. The two had obtained protective bail in the case.

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