Thursday June 13, 2024

Mian Saleem Raza: The ‘most wanted terrorist’ over refusal to become a witness against Nawaz Sharif

Mian Saleem Raza has spoken for the first time about late judge Arshad Malik, the FIA, Imran Khan’s former accountability minister Shahzad Akbar and how he has been victimised for over three years after refusing to make a statement about Nawaz Sharif

By Murtaza Ali Shah
November 11, 2022
Mian Saleem Raza. — Provided by our correspondent
Mian Saleem Raza. — Provided by our correspondent

LONDON: One of the central characters in the judge Arshad Malik video scandal has said that a senior official of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) met him in London in the first week of October, 2019 and asked him to make a false confessional statement against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and hold a press conference against him or face financial ruin, including being added to the “most wanted terrorists” list.

Mian Saleem Raza has spoken for the first time about late judge Arshad Malik, the FIA, Imran Khan’s former accountability minister Shahzad Akbar and how he has been victimised for over three years after refusing to make a statement about Nawaz Sharif.

When the scandal of judge Arshad Malik broke out, it was alleged by Shahzad Akbar during TV interviews that it was Mian Saleem Raza who had paid Rs20 million to Mian Tariq to buy an objectionable video of the accountability judge. Mian Saleem Raza, however, has rejected all allegations of blackmail against him made by the FIA and Shahzad Akbar.

Raza was named as one of the main characters in the video scandal along with Nasir Butt, Mian Tariq and others. He fled Lahore on July 9, 2019 for Thailand and then to Europe - three days after Maryam Nawaz Sharif held a press conference in Lahore on July 6, 2019 to release a video of judge Arshad Malik openly confessing that he was blackmailed and pressurised to convict Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference in 2018. In the video, recorded by Nasir Butt, the judge can also be seen apologising to Nawaz and expressing his regret for convicting him.

Mian Saleem Raza with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. — Provided by our correspondent
Mian Saleem Raza with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. — Provided by our correspondent

In mid-November 2019, the FIA placed names of Butt and Raza on the list of “most wanted” terrorists in the country after an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad dismissed the FIA’s plea seeking to try Raza and others under the anti-terrorism law.

The Counter-Terrorism Wing of the FIA added Butt and Raza to its list of most wanted terrorists named in its latest Red Book alleging: “Nasir Butt & Mian Saleem Raza are involved in Arshad Malik (Judge) Video scandal which was subsequently charged by him for blackmailing, criminal intimidation.”

Speaking publicly for the first time since fleeing Pakistan, Raza revealed that a senior Pakistani official from the FIA who met him in London in October 2019 openly asked him to return to Pakistan and hold a press conference against Nawaz to say that they had asked him to trap the late accountability judge. “I told him I cannot lie about Nawaz Sharif because he had no connection of any kind with Judge Arshad Malik’s video scandals. He threatened that I will meet a very horrible fate and my whole family will suffer if I didn’t cooperate. He promised that I will pay a big financial price and I will be added to the list of terrorists. Every threat he made was executed later on. When the FIA officer kept calling me, I switched off my phone as he was threatening me and causing me stress.”

The FIA official, according to Raza, offered that if he held the press conference blaming Nawaz, he would be given a major political position, business contracts and state protection or else his assets will be confiscated and his sources of income will be eliminated, including dire consequences for his family and future.

Raza said the official who met him in London had also met him in Lahore where the FIA officials made lucrative offers as well as threats, hours before he fled to avoid being arrested and locked up.

“The same official (who followed me to London) had visited my house in Lahore with two other FIA officials on July 7 and 8, 2019 after Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s press conference in Model Town with other PML-N leaders. The FIA officials told me they were prepared to organise my meeting with Shahzad Akbar if I agreed to become a witness against Nawaz Sharif,” shared Raza, who has not returned to Pakistan since July 2019.

Raza’s name in the “most wanted terrorists” list was added after one of the main accused Mian Tariq Mehmood told the FIA on October 1, 2019 in an alleged confessional statement that he had sold out the immoral video of former accountability court judge Arshad Malik to Mian Saleem Raza for Rs20 million.

Raza says he told the FIA in Lahore that he had visited Nawaz Sharif in Kot Lakhpat jail several times but all meetings were held in the presence of others and Nawaz never ever asked him for anything, never gave him any task and never discussed anything about his legal cases. He said: “I told the FIA that Nawaz knew me only as his follower who loved him, visited him in jail and followed him everywhere. The FIA didn’t like this factual statement and asked me to lie and say that he (Nawaz Sharif) had asked me and arranged money to pay to Mian Tariq but I told them this was not true. They told me that I should lie and have a comfortable life or else they will make my life difficult. They were asking me why I met Nawaz Sharif so many times in jail. They were not interested in the truth so I decided to flee from Pakistan to save my life.”

Raza says it was Mian Tariq Mahmood who introduced him to judge Arshad Malik. “Judge Arshad Malik visited my home in Lahore’s Dherem Pura on 1st of July 2019 on his own accord with Mian Tariq, in his official car but without his security protocol. I didn’t know that Mian Tariq will bring a judge to my house, I found it it was judge Arshad Malik after he entered my house.”

Raza revealed that long before judge Arshad Malik was filmed, he told several people in meetings that he had falsely convicted Nawaz. “Judge Arshad Malik openly told people whom he met that he was regretful and had a guilty conscience that he had convicted Nawaz. He told the same to me when I met him. He told me that Nawaz was an innocent man who was wronged to manipulate elections and to deprive him from power. Judge Arshad Malik told me and others he could not sleep at night after convicting Nawaz Sharif wrongly and felt so guilty in conscience that he wanted to do a press conference to tell the world how he was blackmailed to convict Nawaz Sharif.”

Mian Raza added: “Arshad Malik asked to convey his apologises and regrets to Nawaz Sharif during my next visit to jail but I told him that Nawaz Sharif will not like such a thing and I told him that it was not my place to convey such messages as this will upset Nawaz Sharif. He was insisting but I told him I was not in a position to do that. I never passed any message to Nawaz Sharif or anyone in the Sharif family. I had no other role or dealing with him as I had no other means to guide him on what to do. I have no idea how he got introduced to Nasir Butt.”

Raza said that he met Mian Tariq in May 2019 for the first time at a lawyer’s office. “We spoke on phone many times and he insisted to meet me. Mian Tariq told me that judge Arshad Malik felt guilty that he convicted Nawaz Sharif and told me he will arrange my meeting but he brought the judge to my house as a surprise. After the video scandal broke out, Mian Tariq was tortured in custody by the FIA and treated like a terrorist to the extent that half of his body was paralysed. He was tortured until he agreed to make a false statement against me to save his life. He took back his statement against me as soon as he was out on the bail and told me that he was tortured to make the confessional statement. He has become a living tragedy and Shahzad Akbar was the one who ordered his torture to make Imran Khan happy,” said the Lahore man.  

Raza said that he had never met or spoken to Nasir Butt and Mian Nasir Janjua until he found out through news that Nasir Butt had filmed Judge Arshad Malik. “I had never met any of them before but the FIA and Shahzad Akbar lied that I conspired with them. I had no relation with any videos, payments or anything like that,” he said.

So why did the FIA go after him and why did he come to the attention of the FIA?

Mian Raza says he came to the attention of the FIA because he used to follow Nawaz Sharif during his court appearances. After Nawaz Sharif was jailed in Kot Lakhpat jail, Raza would stand outside the jail regularly in solidarity with Nawaz. He visited Nawaz inside the jail, along with others on six occasions.

“People in plainclothes who said they were from the FIA started chasing me and asked me why I visited Nawaz Sharif in jail and what was discussed. I told them all the time that I was a follower of Nawaz Sharif and loved him. I followed Nawaz Sharif in over 100 appearances. After the video scandal broke out, the FIA officials were at my gate the next day blackmailing me and issuing threats. They made offers and asked me to lie but I told them I will die but I will not lie about Nawaz Sharif for the material gains,” said Raza.

After he fled to London and refused to agree to demands made by the FIA official who met him in London, Raza’s three properties including his office were seized; his house was raided and expensive jewellery as well as the CCTV system was taken away; locks were broken and mobile phones taken away; property documents stolen; three commercial properties; ID card and passport blocked; name added on the Exit Control List (ECL).

In April 2020, his 28-years-old sister passed away in Lahore but he was unable to attend the funeral or visit the grave. “In revenge for Nawaz Sharif, the FIA committed crimes against innocent lives.”

Raza has called on Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah to look into his case and hold an independent inquiry into the conduct of the FIA against him.  He appealed: “I request Rana Sanaullah and PM Shehbaz Sharif to look into my case and remove my name from the list of most wanted terrorists. I have not committed any crime. I want to visit my country and family as a free man and I need clearance. I have done nothing wrong by not lying about Nawaz.”

Raza used to own a business under the name of Defense Petroleum and Property Bank Lahore where nearly 80 people worked in two offices. The FIA sealed both offices in Lahore for both businesses after the Arshad Malik video scandal.  He also was involved in extensive charitable work but all of that stopped after the FIA raid and further actions. Both businesses were completed eliminated as not office was allowed to operate after Raza left Pakistan and the FIA went after extended family of Raza, including his aged mother and real brother and sisters.

The former trader from Lahore says: “The FIA didn’t spare my children even in school. I don’t blame all PTI govt but I do want to ask Shahzad Akbar why he did this to me. What happened to me and other innocent people in this case is a crime against humanity. My family life and business are ruined just because I refused to lie and implicate Nawaz Sharif.”

Living in London ever since the video scandal, Raza says his own family and friend abandoned him after he got into difficulties and he was treated for mental depression and trauma at a London. He adds: “I got courage after seeing what happened to Nawaz and how he had to pay a heavy personal and political price. I will request the government of Pakistan to look into my case help me get justice.