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IHC granted pre-arrest bail to Asif Zardari till May 15

09 May, 2019

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The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday granted pre-arrest bail to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari until May 15 in a case pertaining to illegal awarding of a water supply contract to a private company.

The former president was summoned by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Wednesday after filing of a reference against the holders of public office, legal persons and others regarding the illegal award of a contract by the Sindh government’s Special Initiative Department to M/S Harish & Company.

The case is part of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the anti-graft watchdog after the Supreme Court forwarded the joint investigation team (JIT) report in the fake accounts scandal and directed it to file references, if required, after probing allegations of money laundering through fictitious bank accounts.

PPP lawmaker Faryal Talpur, Omni Group’s Anwar Majeed and his sons, and former Pakistan Stock Exchange chairperson Hussain Lawai are among others being interrogated in the case.

Since the matter was forwarded to an accountability court in Islamabad after a Karachi banking court accepted the NAB’s transfer request, Zardari has received at least four call-up notices, and has managed to secure pre-arrest bail in all of them.

In the fresh pre-arrest bail application filed to pre-empt any attempts by the bureau to arrest the former president, Zardari maintained innocence and accused the NAB of acting with “mala fide intentions and ulterior motives beyond the scope of Section 19 of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999”.

The petition read that the call-up notices violated Article 13 of the constitution, which gave the citizens protection against double punishment and self-incrimination.

The plea further added that “throughout the course of history, the petitioner [Zardari] had been made to suffer on account of political victimisation and mudslinging by involving him in false and fabricated cases”. It stated that the PPP leader had served a total of 11 years of jail term “in false and politically motivated cases”.

In the bail plea, Zardari also prayed to the high court to direct the anti-corruption unit to furnish details of the number of cases it had or planned to file against him.

He wants the details to be prepared for pre-emptive measures fearing arrest. The PPP co-chairman stressed that there was no likelihood that the “so-called trial may culminate in the conviction of the petitioner”. Information regarding the fake accounts came to the fore when an intelligence agency picked up a prominent money changer in an unrelated case. In December 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) began a discreet investigation into certain bank accounts through which multi-billion rupee transactions had been made.

Investigators have so far identified 29 accounts which received payments, totalling at least Rs 35 billion. The probe was initially shelved, but resumed almost a year and a half later with the FIA’s State Bank circle initiating a formal inquiry in January 2018. By June, the FIA had several high-profile names on its list, but was unable to make headway, for several reasons.

The Supreme Court intervened and then chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of the ‘slow progress’ in the money-laundering case. In July, Zardari’s close aides Hussain Lawai, Taha Raza and two others were arrested. Subsequently, the first case was registered in the mega-corruption scandal.

The then chief justice ordered the formation of a joint investigation team to quicken the pace of the investigation. The JIT identified 11,500 bank accounts and 924 account holders at the start of their investigation. After the JIT report, the names of 172 individuals were placed on the no-fly list by the Interior Ministry.

According to the report, experts generated 59 Suspected Transaction Reports (STR) and 24,500 Cash Transaction Reports.

Due to the high quantum of transactions, the JIT decided on a threshold of Rs 10 million “to track, follow and minutely investigate the flow of funds beyond the immediate counterparties and determine the source of funds and ultimate beneficiaries”.

It questioned 767 individuals, including Zardari and Talpur, while Bilawal submitted written responses.

The investigation uncovered that the 11 sole proprietorship entities were registered in the names of low-level employees of the Omni Group, as well as random individuals, including a deceased person. All the accounts were operated by the Omni Group executives.

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