The apex court has asked the country’s top graft buster – the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) – to submit details of the 28 fake bank accounts identified during a probe into a mega money laundering scandal that involves top leaders of the PPP.
A three-judge bench presided over by Justice Mushir Alam on Monday issued this directive while hearing the bail application of one of the accused in the case Muhammad Umair, a peon whose bank account was used for a monetary transaction worth over Rs580 million.
During the course of proceedings, the counsel for the accused said no action was taken against the main accused – including PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur – but his client was singled out for alleged persecution despite the fact that he was a co-accused.
The counsel said there were no signatures of his client on the alleged fake cheques.
Justice Yahya Afridi, a member of the bench, asked NAB why no action was taken against other accused. The NAB prosecutor said investigations are underway against the other accused.
Justice Afridi, however, said that the main accused are out on bail but the co-accused are in jails. He also asked the NAB prosecutor as to why NAB did not challenge the bail plea of Faryal Talpur.
The prosecutor said the NAB rules regarding female accused are different.
He said some of the accused in the fake accounts case had been hidden in the kacha area of Sindh while some of the accused were sent abroad. “Muhammad Umair was also arrested from Dubai. Umair was a naib qasid [peon] but Rs580 million transactions were carried out through his account,” he said.
Justice Alam noted that the accused apparently assisted others in money laundering.
Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, the third member of the bench, said according to NAB, all fake accounts were run by Arif Khan. Justice Afridi noted that 29 fake accounts had surfaced and only one of the accounts allegedly belonged to Muhammad Umar.
“What are the titles of other fake accounts,” he asked. The NAB prosecutor responded that no other accused had owned any of the suspicious bank accounts.
“So far 32 cases have come out of two fake accounts. Another 27 fake accounts are under investigation. NAB has already filed 10 references in connection with the scandal,” he said.
The court later asked NAB to submit details of other 28 accounts. It also ordered the anti-graft watchdog to submit its investigation report with regard to accused Muhammad Umair.
Information regarding the fake accounts came to the fore when the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) picked up a prominent money changer in an unrelated case. In December 2015, the FIA began a discreet investigation into certain bank accounts through which multi-billion rupee transactions had been made.
Investigators later identified 29 accounts which received payments, totalling at least Rs35 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.
It was at this point that the Supreme Court intervened and then chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of “slow progress” in the money-laundering case.
In July 2018, Zardari’s close aide Hussain Lawai and three others were arrested. Subsequently, the first case was registered in the mega-corruption scandal. The former CJ ordered the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) 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.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM APP