JIT probe unearths Rs8.1bn in Zardari’s domestic help’s account

Special JIT probe unearths Rs8.1bn in Zardari’s domestic help’s account
Corroborating reports that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had found Rs 8.1 billion deposited in the account of former President Asif Ali Zardari’s domestic worker’s account, officials said on Thursday. (AFP/photo)
Updated 29 November 2018

JIT probe unearths Rs8.1bn in Zardari’s domestic help’s account

JIT probe unearths Rs8.1bn in Zardari’s domestic help’s account
  • Former president’s sister also questioned by investigators; son seeks more time to sit for probe
  • Findings could pressurize PM Khan’s government to clean up its own ranks, analysts say

KARACHI: Corroborating reports that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had found Rs 8.1 billion deposited in the account of former President Asif Ali Zardari’s domestic worker’s account, officials said on Thursday that the hard work of the teams probing cases of money laundering in the country was finally paying off.

FIA official Muhammad Ali Abro said that Zardari’s servant Mushtaq Ahmed and a few others were suspected to be involved in acquiring assets through illegal means. 

“The suspects, whose names the FIA had shared with the Supreme Court, are turning accused as their links to the fake accounts are being established one by one,” Abro told Arab News, adding that the “hard work of the FIA was paying off and we are finding evidence”.

“This substantiates a link of these people with Omni and Zardari groups,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), probing the amount of Rs35billion in a money laundering scam unearthed hundreds of fake accounts which are suspected of being linked to it, following which the JIT summoned Zardari’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and his sister Faryal Talpur.

Bilawal, however, excused himself from appearing before the JIT, citing “unavoidable engagements”, even as he sought to know the questions in advance. Talpur appeared along with her brother who was summoned on a later date but insisted on being questioned sooner citing commitments later on.

On July 7, the FIA obtained an arrest warrant for Hussain Lawai -- Chairman Central Depository Company (CDC) and a close aide of Zardari -- after registering a case against him for using a fake account to launder Rs35 billion ($288 million).

According to a case registered by the FIA’s Banking Circle in Karachi, Zardari – who is also the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – and his sister, Talpur were among 13 people who benefited from the arrangement.

On July 11, the FIA summoned Zardari and Talpur to record their statements. However, the next day, the apex court – based on a plea by the accused -- halted investigations till the conclusion of the general elections on July 25. Later, Zardari and his sister were able to obtain a bail from the accountability court.

As the investigation by the apex court-appointed JIT continued, the number of suspects holding fake accounts grew in number too, with some being registered under the names of ice-cream vendors, factory workers, and students, pointing at large-scale money laundering.

The latest details to be added to the list are those belonging to the account of a man working as Zardari’s domestic staff. Commenting on the developments, Mazhar Abbas, a Karachi-based analyst said that Bilawal being summoned would be symbolic if the FIA is able to establish a link between Zardari’s family and fake accounts. 

Off the three – Zardari, Talpur, and Bilawal – Abbas said Talpur is in the hot soup according to his knowledge of the developments. “Efforts are underway to make Husain Lawai and Anwar Majeed approvers. If they agreed, many new things will open,” Abbas says, adding that most of the accounts are linked with the Omni Group. “The group’s Anwar Majeed has been considered as a frontman of Zardari.”

The challenge for the JIT, Abbas opines, is to establish a link between these accounts with the Zardari family and its involvement in money laundering. “Only then a reference can be filed and that’s the target of the current government,” he said.

Zahid Gishkori, an Islamabad-based journalist, said: “With the JIT’s findings, I think the problem for the PPP would begin not with a whimper but with a bang, particularly for young Bilawal who is coming into focus of a fresh investigation.”

It’s also a litmus test, he added, not only for the Supreme Court but also for the federal government which continues to harp on the fact that introducing accountability across the board is its top priority.

The JIT findings’, however, would also mount pressure on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to clean up its own ranks as well as bring to the book several cabinet members who are facing investigations by the National Accountability Bureau, he said.

“The issue of property of Mr Khan’s sister is also coming up which has, in fact, fueled the accountability slogan Pakistan continues to embrace at many fronts,” he added.

Central spokesperson PPP party, Nafisa Shah didn’t respond to calls made by Arab News. However, Farhatullah Babar, a central leader of the PPP told Arab News on Sunday that the case against the party’s leadership was politically-motivated and fabricated. 

Zardari had also said in one of his recent interviews to a local television channel that he "can still defend" putting his money in other people's accounts -- if proven -- and that it was the account holder's fault if he didn't know how a huge sum was deposited there.