FeaturedNationalVolume 14 Issue # 11

Premature confrontation

Confrontation between the Sindh government of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the federal government has intensified after a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) submitted its report on fake bank accounts in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The court has referred the case to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and ordered it to complete investigations in two months. The order has provided temporary relief to the PPP leadership to fight a bitter fight in court, parliament and in the public.

The JIT has found incriminating evidence against the PPP leadership, which has denied any wrongdoing and challenged its findings. The same situation had arisen after a JIT was formed against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. However, the difference was that Nawaz Sharif’s children made a huge blunder by accepting the ownership of properties in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In this way, the onus was on them to provide a money trail and prove their innocence. As the PPP leadership has rejected all accounts and properties in their name, it will be the responsibility of NAB and the JIT to prove them guilty in court. In the meantime, the party will continue its fight in the parliament and the public to prove the accountability process as political victimization by the government.

The JIT revealed that former President Asif Zardari and his accomplices “grabbed” state-run entities in Sindh through corruption tactics. The Omni Group, allegedly owned by Zardari and his close aides, acquired four state-run entities — Thatta Cement Factory, Thatta Sugar Mills, Naudero Sugar Mills and Dadu Sugar Mills — in Sindh at throwaway prices. The Sindh government intentionally turned the entities into sick units by suspending funds/subsidies and then closed them down. The entities were later purchased by companies owned by the Omni Group. Thatta Cement was purchased by the group for Rs135 million and the amount was paid through fake bank accounts. The Naudero Sugar Mills was acquired by the group for Rs68m in 2001, when its market value was Rs142.89m. The Thatta Sugar Mills was sold to the Omni Group for Rs127.5m in 2013, while its market value was Rs716.11m. The Dadu Sugar Mills was acquired by the group in 2008, at Rs90m against its original price of Rs626.70m.

The group also devoured Rs7.19 billion subsidies given by the Sindh government after purchasing the four entities. A subsidy of Rs3.8bn was given in the name of subsidised loans for the revival of sick industrial units. Of it, Rs3.72b (97pc) went to the Omni Group. Similarly, a subsidy of Rs2.31bn was given in the name of new captive power plants, of which Rs1.58b (68pc) was obtained by the group. A sum of Rs3.89bn was released for cane growers and the group got Rs0.84b (22pc). An amount of Rs1.99b was released under annual subsidised tractor schemes and Rs1.05b (51pc) was obtained by the group. According to the JIT report, fake accounts were opened in the name of the group employees and used for direct transactions with the Zardari Group and family, Bahria Town, Sindh government departments and contractors of the Sindh government and the ultimate beneficiary of the money laundering cartel was the Omni Group and Zardari family. The Bahria Town grabbed some 11,297 acres state land and 7,900 square yards of state land of Bagh-e-Qasim Clifton, Karachi, by using resources of the Sindh government, Board of Revenue, Malir Development Authority including Sindh Police and deposited Rs10.02 billion directly into fake accounts. Over 562 acres state land, including 362 acres of the Pakistan Steel Mills, was illegally allotted to private builders, causing a loss of Rs4.14 billion to the national exchequer.

The JIT found that while approving a very low bid for the Thatta Sugar Mills against the advice of the then Finance Secretary, the then Finance Minister and current Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah strongly recommended the summary in favour of the Omni Group on the grounds that it will create jobs for locals. The mill was also provided Rs895 million loan by the Sindh government. Murad Ali Shah also acted as a facilitator to the group by paying Rs7.19 billion in subsidies to it. The National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and the Summit Bank approved Rs2.4 billion loan for it by re-evaluating its mortgaged property from Rs50.2 million to Rs1.5 billion in 2009. Some 25 properties of Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in Paris, New York, London and Dubai have also been detected besides 120 farmhouses in Sindh.

The PPP has started targeting the federal government after the JIT report. The PPP believes the establishment is behind the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government, Prime Minister Imran Khan and the JIT report, so it believes it can escape accountability through confrontation and playing the Sindh card. The PTI, instead of taking the criticism quietly, added to the tensions by announcing its plan to replace the Sindh government. Rumours of the imposition of governor’s rule were also created to obtain desired results.

However, the plan failed and caused major embarrassment, not only to Prime Minister Imran Khan, but also the government. The operation was dropped after the Supreme Court hinted at striking down governor’s rule, if imposed in Sindh, and directed the government to review the names of 172 persons put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which included the name of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah besides the Zardari family. Sources say the establishment also advised the federal government against any misadventure in Sindh. The PTI would have to resort to horsetrading to form the government in the province, which could malign the image of the party. In fact, the plan was premature, as the JIT report was not a court verdict. The PPP leadership can still prove its innocence in courts as it will have the services of the best lawyers in the country. The PTI should leave the case to the courts to decide it. Confrontation is not in its interest or that of the people of Pakistan. It should evolve a working relationship with the PPP to serve the people of Sindh.