NationalVolume 14 Issue # 10

End of the trail for Zardari?

The fate of former President Asif Ali has almost been sealed after an investigation into fake accounts, which were used for illegal transactions of about Rs220 billion. Details of his US flat have also emerged, which he allegedly concealed in his tax returns and nomination papers. It may lead to his disqualification from politics for life.

According to a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report, 415 individuals and 172 organisations were involved in transactions of some Rs220 billion through 104 fake accounts. The report identified the accused and details of their assets abroad after forensic analysis of the fake bank accounts, records of entities and individuals taken from the Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and intelligence agencies, while responses on requests under the Mutual Legal Assistance are yet to be received from different countries. Former President Asif Ali Zardari is believed to own properties in Brussels and Paris. Statements of key accused, including Asif Zardari, his sister MPA Faryal Talpur, son and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Mustafa Memon, Zain Malik of Bahria Town, Abdul Ghani Majeed and Anwar Majeed of Omni Group were recorded.

The JIT report revealed that Rs4.14 million was paid from a fake account owned by M/s Logistic Trading for food supplies to Bilawal House by a restaurant on June 29, 2015. Another payment of Rs1.54 million of domestic water bill for April 20, 2015, of House No D-30, Block 3, Clifton, owned by Asif Zardari, was made from a fake account at a private bank in Karachi. Zardari Group Pvt. Ltd. also received amounts from an international account at a private bank in Karachi. A domestic worker of Asif Zardari had around Rs8.1 billion stashed in one of his fake accounts. Mushtaq Ahmed, 37, who once served as a personal staff member of Zardari, accumulated the wealth with Zain Malik through a joint fake account maintained in a private bank in Karachi during 2014-15.

Summit Bank President Nasser Abdullah Lootah, Ansari Sugar Mills Pvt. Ltd. (Anwar Majeed, Ali Kamal Majeed), Omni Polymer Packages Pvt. Ltd., Pak Ethnol Pvt. Ltd., Chamber Sugar Mills Pvt. Ltd., M/s Agro Farms Thatta Pvt. Ltd.; Zardari Group Pvt. Ltd. (Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Asif Ali Zardari, Faryal Talpur), Parthenon Pvt. Ltd. (Iqbal Khan Noori), A-One International, Lucky International, Logistic Trading, Royal International and Umair Associates were identified as prime accused in the investigation. The JIT also found Zain Malik, son-in-law of Malik Riaz of Bahria Town, involved in the case. The suspicious transactions were made through 29 accounts — 16 in Summit Bank, eight in Sindh Bank and five in United Bank Limited (UBL).

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has also filed an application with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), seeking the disqualification of Asif Ali Zardari for concealing assets. According to the application, Zardari has failed to declare an apartment he allegedly owns in Belaire Condominiums at 524 East 72nd Street, New York, in his nomination form for the 2018 general elections. The PPP leader is a member of the National Assembly from NA-213, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sindh. A second document purports to show that Ms. Mehreen Shah was granted the power of attorney for the condo unit by Zardari. Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi shared on social media property tax statements of a flat in New York owned but not declared by Asif Zardari. He shared on Twitter the property tax statements of an apartment in the Manhattan borough of New York City. The documents bear the name “Asif A. Zardari”. The veracity of the documents could not be independently confirmed. The PTI claims the documents are available online, while the PPP has said Zardari owned the property but had sold it 20 years ago. After admitting its ownership, Zardari will have to prove his claim through documents because the papers suggest he was still owner in 2008, when his party won the election and he became the president of Pakistan.

Responding to the PTI’s move, the PPP swung into action and its leader Farhatullah Babar filed a petition in the ECP against Prime Minister Imran Khan and Federal Minister for Water Faisal Vawda. In the petition, Babar sought details of Imran Khan and Vawda’s assets and their election campaign expenses. He also sought details of assets of the prime minister’s sister, Aleema Khanum, and her money trail. He also filed a plea in the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) to seek details of PTI leader Jahangir Khan Tareen’s bank accounts.

The PPP calls all cases against Asif Zaradari and his close aides “a conspiracy to defame the party.” It has finalised a strategy if Zardari was arrested, though he is on bail until January 5, 2019. The party plans to lock down Sindh to protest his arrest. It has also decided to give “a tough time” to the government. The party’s senior leaders have proposed a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan.

However, experts believe the PPP will not be able to muster the support of the common people on Zardari’s arrest, even in Sindh. His arrest could also be beneficial for his party, which has been tainted beyond repair because of his alleged corruption. It may also pave the way for a free hand to Bilawal Bhutto, if he survives the fake accounts case. As former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has implicated his children in corruption cases against him, Zardari has also attempted to take Bilawal to jail with him.