IHC turns down Zardari, Talpur’s bail plea in fake accounts case

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has rejected a petition seeking extension in the bail period of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur and allowed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to arrest the duo in the fake accounts case.

Earlier, the court had reserved its verdict after the anti-corruption prosecutor completed his arguments.

The case relates to a transaction of Rs150 million to the PPP leaders’ private company through alleged fake bank accounts.The PPP co-chief, who appeared before the court amid strict security measures, was accompanied by his daughter Aseefa Bhutto.

National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Additional Prosecutor Jahanzeb Bharwana assisted the two-member bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani.Party workers gathered close to the court premises as prisoner vans were also brought to the site.

PPP workers in Punjab have already planned a protest in case the former president is arrested. The party has planned blockade of all major roads of the provincial capital by arranging workers’ protests in case of arrest of the party’s co-chairman.Senior party leader Faisal Mir said that if Prime Minister Imran Khan managed to get Zardari arrested through the corruption watchdog, “he would be laying the foundation for the removal of his government”, reported a private media outlet.

In December 2015, the FIA began a discreet investigation into certain bank accounts through which multi-billion rupee transactions have been made.

According to FIA sources, information regarding the fake accounts came to the fore when an intelligence agency picked up a prominent money changer in an unrelated case.

As the monitoring and investigation of these suspicious accounts continued, it surfaced that five of these accounts in two banks – the Sindh Bank and Summit Bank – had been used for transactions worth around Rs15 billion.Investigation showed the accounts were operated by fake companies. Funds were credited into these accounts from contractors with multi-billion rupee contracts with the Sindh government.

The money was found to have been transferred to accounts of companies owned and operated by the Omni Group, whose chairperson, Anwar Majeed, is a close aide of Zardari. Another beneficiary was Nasir Lootah, the chairperson of Summit Bank.The probe, however, was shelved. It resumed almost a year and a half later. FIA’s State Bank circle initiated 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. It was at his point that the Supreme Court intervened. Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of the ‘slow progress’ in the money laundering case.

In July, Zardari’s close aide Hussain Lawai and two other suspects were arrested. Subsequently, the first case was registered in the mega-corruption scandal.The FIA submitted its report to the apex court on July 8 which revealed a web of companies and accounts that were being used to transfer billions of rupees.In all, 29 accounts were identified that received payments, totaling at least Rs35 billion.

In August, Anwar Majeed was arrested along with son Abdul Ghani Majeed when they returned to the country on being summoned by the apex court. They are now on judicial remand.Meanwhile, Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur have appeared before the investigators and have since secured interim bail from the banking court.

The last hearing of the case was on December 21, when the duo got their fourth extension in the bail till January 7.