ISLAMABAD: A money laundering network in Pakistan transferred a “colossal amount” of allegedly illicit funds to Iran, with a representative of the Iranian supreme leader among the recipients, court documents recently submitted by Pakistani investigators show.
Investigation reports and WhatsApp chat logs — all viewed by Arab News and corroborated by security officials — show that members of the network operated between Pakistan, Iran and Iraq over the past seven years.
“On scrutiny it has come on record that a colossal amount of Foreign Currency has been remitted in/out of Pakistan vide illegal transactions of Hundi/ Hawala,” a charge sheet dated Feb. 10, 2022, submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency to a court in Karachi, said.
Hawala and hundi are informal ways of transferring cash across borders — both are illegal in Pakistan. FIA documents say that the group also used pilgrims traveling to the cities of Najaf in Iraq and Qom in Iran to smuggle money.
One of the recipients of the transfers, according to the charge sheet, was Abolfazl Bahauddini, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s former representative to Pakistan.
The supreme leader appoints representatives to all provinces of Iran, universities, certain government agencies, and also countries, such as Pakistan, where Shiite communities are present.
Representatives are expected to promote Khamenei’s value system and theocratic principles through their sermons and public speeches, and also pressure local authorities to accommodate his policies. Their appointment in foreign countries is not officially announced.
According to FIA records, Bahauddini received money from the main suspect in the case, identified as Ali Raza.
Raza was among 13 people arrested during raids in Karachi in January this year, on charges of money laundering and being “associated with a foreign intelligence agency.”
His testimony led to the arrest of another person, a government official, Syed Wisal Haider Naqvi, who he said was Bahauddini's associate.
“Accused Ali Raza also disclosed that he was giving an amount of $200,000 monthly to Agha Adbul Fazal (Abolfazl) Bahauddini through his representative Syed Wisal Haider Naqvi,” the FIA charge sheet reads, but it does not specify when Bahauddini had received the money and for how long.
A source in Iran told Arab News that Bahauddini had already left Pakistan, most likely between August 2021 and February this year.
The FIA is going to supplement the accusations in the initial charge sheet with forensic analysis of mobile phone data. However, material already analyzed indicates that Raza also transferred cash — estimated by the FIA to be about 30.8 million rupees ($16,400) — to a local Pakistani TV network and 1 million rupees to an Islamabad-based madrasah, or religious school, belonging to a leader of a religious political party.
Naqvi had “remitted a huge amount in the shape of dollars through illegal transactions of hawala to Iran,” the charge sheet said.
Both Raza and Naqvi remain in custody after their bail pleas were dismissed by the court while the investigation is underway.
The probe into the money laundering network began after police in Karachi arrested several members of an Iran-backed militant group, the Zainabiyoun Brigade, in December 2020 and January 2021.
“The network was identified during the investigation of the militants of the Zainabiyoun in Karachi,” an official with links to the probe told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
The Zainabiyoun Brigade is believed to have sent young members of the Pakistani Shiite community to fight in Syria. It was placed on the US Treasury’s financial blacklist in 2019.
The Pakistani Ministry of Interior, the director-general of the FIA and the agency’s director for Sindh province, where all the arrests took place, were unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts.