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September 10, 2017

NAB moves LHC against Zardari’s acquittal

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September 10, 2017

RAWALPINDI: The NAB in an appeal against aquittal of former president Asif Ali Zardari to the Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi Bench has said that  Asif  Zardari during 1991 - 1998 accumulated a wealth of $1.5 billion, while declaring his income as Rs1,887,162 and paying a tax of Rs 570,478 only.

The NAB stated the accountability court ignored 22,000 attested documents, concrete evidence and important witnesses and acquitted Asif Ali Zardari from a corruption reference on August 26, 2017. It said the accountability court gave the decision in haste. According to the record  from Bow Street Magistrate London, Zardari is the beneficial owner of the properties near Surrey, NAB's appeal said.

The NAB through its special prosecutor Imran Shafique  filed the appeal bagainst the acquittal of the PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari from assets reference of 14/2001. The NAB filed a criminal appeal under Section 32 of National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999. An accountability court of Rawalpindi on August 26 had acquitted Zardari from the charges. The NAB's appeal sought to set aside the August 26 judgment and to remand the case back to trial court while  directing the court  to decide the matter on merit.

On February 25, 1998 a reference under section 15(a) was filed at Ehtesab bench of the LHC against Asif Ali Zardari. It was alleged that Zardari accumulated assets beyond his known means and declared sources of income. According to NAB, Zardari from 1991 -1998 accumulated $1.5 billion and invested them  in foreign countries in the form of offshore companies and assets.

It was alleged that comparison of the declared assets of the accused before the income tax authorities and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) revealed that the massive amount of wealth which the accused has accumulated as properties, assets and bank accounts in Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, France and Dubai are indeed disproportionate to the known sources of the income of the accused. This, it said attracts the provisions of Section 3(C) of the Ehtesab Act 1997  punishable under Section 4 of the Act.

During investigations, it transpired from the income tax returns from 1991-1998 that
Zardari declared his total income  as Rs1,887,162 and paid Rs570,478 tax only. The NAB stated that Zardari also took exemptions from the taxes in this period. 

The Ehtesab Cell found tremendous amount of documentary evidence relating to properties, bank accounts, other moveable and immoveable properties acquired by Zardari abroad, which in no way were proportionate to declared and known assets and sources of income. The Ehtesab Cell inquiry revealed that Zardari kept his wealth in the bank accounts of Switzerland and lockers. The bank statements, mandate agreements, establishment of offshore companies registered in British Virgin Islands (BVI), incorporation of companies at Geneva, cash flows of various accounts to and from United Arab Emirates (UAE), Switzerland, France, UK and USA were also found.

In the corruption reference 25 offshore companies of Zardari were located. Five offshore companies were established in Florida, USA, including Lapworth Investment Inc, Intra Foods Inc, AS Reality Inc, Bon Voyage Travel Consultancy Inc and Dynatel Trading Co. While, 18 offshore companies were established at British Virgin Islands including Bomer Finance Inc, Mariston Securities Inc, Marleton Business SA, Caprisorn Trading SA, Fagarita Consulting Inc, Marvil Associated Inc, Pwnbury Finance Ltd, Oxton Trading Limited, Brinslen Invest SA, Chimitex Holding SA, Elkins Holding SA, Minterler Invest Ltd, Silvernut Investment Inc, Tacolen Investment Ltd, Marlerdon Invest SA, Dustan Trading Inc, Reconstruction and Development Finance Inc and Westminster Securities Inc.

According to  NAB appeal, a supplementary reference was also filed on June 25, 1998 regarding illegal properties owned and controlled by Zardari through his frontmen, benamidars and others including five sugar mills and various others. 

NAB contended that the order of accountability court is against the law and facts, and a result of misreading or non-reading of the evidence on record. The order was passed in violation of the mandate of section 265-K and in excess of jurisdiction. As per NAB appeal, the accountability court failed to differentiate between the onus to prove prosecution in an ordinary criminal case and a case  involving accumulation of assets beyond known sources of income. During proceedings, 40 witnesses were produced before the court who were cross-examined by the defence counsels. In the entire cross-examination, not a single suggestion was made by any of the prosecution witness that the properties or assets attributed to Zardari did not belong to him. It is the case where no specific denial with regard to ownership, beneficial or otherwise, of any of the properties, either local or foreign, was made but the court gave a clean chit to the accused. According to NAB, in financial white collar crimes, circumstantial evidence is most at the times.

The most devastating aspect of this case is that the trial court did not allow the prosecution to bring on record the most essential, convincing and reliable documentary evidence obtained from foreign countries in the statement of witness Rizwan Ahmed. The evidence included 225 documents of evidence including banking records received from Geneva. NAB has requested the court to set aside AC order declaring it illegal, unlawful and ultra vires.


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