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September 7, 2018

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SC forms six-member JIT to probe money laundering case

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday constituted a six-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe a money laundering and fake accounts case, allegedly involving former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur.

Headed by Additional Director General (Economic Crime Wing), FIA Headquarters, Islamabad, the JIT will have all the powers relating to inquiries and investigations including those available in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1908; National Accountability Ordinance, 1999; Federal Investigation Agency Act, 1974 and the anti-corruption laws, etc.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Umer Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsen, issued a written order in a suo motu case regarding an investigation into the fake transactions worth billions of rupees conducted through several mainstream banks via ‘benami’ accounts.

The court on Wednesday had decided in principle to constitute a JIT to probe the money laundering and fake accounts case and had ruled that the members would be announced later. Asif Zardari, Faryal Talpur and others are respondents in the matter being investigated by the FIA for using fake accounts and their alleged involvement in fraudulent bank transactions to the tune of Rs35 billion.

The FIA that has been investigating a 2015 case pertaining to fake accounts and fictitious transactions conducted through 29 benami accounts in the Summit Bank, Sindh Bank and United Bank Limited (UBL) on last hearing had recommended to the apex court to constitute a JIT.

“We are in no manner of doubt that in the present case formation of a JIT is imperative and necessary,” says the written order of the court, adding that it constituted the JIT for the purpose of conducting a thorough, in-depth and incisive investigation and probe into the matter of fake bank accounts to get to the truth, uncover the persons involved and collect all material evidence for the purpose of ensuring that in case an offence is made out,the persons involved therein are properly prosecuted.

Members of the JIT include Ahsan Sadiq, Additional Director General (Economic Crime Wing), FIA Headquarters, Islamabad, Imran Latif Minhas, Commissioner-IR (Corporate Zone), Regional Tax Office, Islamabad, Majid Hussain, Joint Director BID-I, State Bank of Pakistan, Islamabad, Noman Aslam, Director, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Islamabad, Muhammad Afzal, Director, Specialised Companies Division, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Islamabad, and Brigadier Shahid Parvez of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The court directed that the JIT shall set up its secretariat at a place convenient to it.

All executive authorities or agencies in the country are required to render assistance and provide support to the JIT in its working, if required. The court further directed that the JIT will submit periodic reports before the court qua the progress made in the investigation on fortnightly basis under sealed cover for examination.

Similarly, the court ruled that the additional DG FIA, who shall head the JIT, may co-opt any other expert who may in his opinion be necessary to complete the investigation in an effective and timely manner. The court further directed that the JIT will be required to file its first report within a period of 15 days.

“In order to ensure that the investigation is conducted in a professional, transparent and effective manner, neither the JIT nor FIA, nor any of the members of the JIT will issue press releases or provide information relating to the investigation to the media,” says the written order.

Further, owing to the apprehensions about the safety of the investigators expressed by the DG FIA, in the first instance, the court directed the Pakistan Rangers to provide adequate and effective security to the investigators and to ensure that they perform their functions without any fear to their life or liberty or that of their families.

“Such protection shall also upon request be provided to the witnesses,” the order stated. The court declined for the time being, the request of the DG FIA that investigation may be transferred to and conducted in Islamabad.

“However, in case, any material, ground or information comes before this court showing interference in the investigation or an attempt to hamper, delay or obstruct investigation or creating an environment of fear and pressure for the investigators, the said request will be re-examined at that stage for passing appropriate orders,” the court ruled.

“From the record produced so far, prima facie it appears that fake accounts have been opened in various banks in the names of persons whose NICs have been misused without their consent or knowledge,” says the order, adding that many such persons have appeared before us and have categorically stated that they have no knowledge of the accounts in question. Some of them have also complained of systematic harassment and prayed for protection.

The court held that the there is no denial of the fact that huge sums of money running into billions have been deposited in the said accounts by or on behalf of the persons who are under investigation or entities controlled by them.

“After being deposited in the said accounts, such funds have either been routed to other accounts which are traceable with some due diligence or withdrawn without any ostensible trail available,” the court noted, adding that evidence of large sum of foreign exchange being routed out of Pakistan through hawala transfers by one of the arrested suspects has added an additional dimension to the investigation.

Further, the court found that specialised knowledge of financial transactions and expertise in identifying and tracing movement of funds through banking channels and otherwise is required, in order to conduct a proper probe and investigation in the matter. The court observed that expertise in working of companies, banking transactions, electronic transactions and cyber activities relating to money transfers is needed. Knowledge of reporting requirements and monitoring regime put in place by the State Bank of Pakistan, modes of discovering and tracing suspicious transactions and modes utilised for unlawful circulation and movement of money within the country and abroad is required.

“Such specialised expertise is not presently available within the FIA,” says the order. “Further, in view of the fact that this court has taken suo motu notice of this matter and considering the request made by the DG FIA and the difficulties expressed by him, we are convinced that it is in the interest of justice and to ensure that national resources and national wealth which belong to people of Pakistan is not looted, plundered or misappropriated, a high powered and highly skilled JIT is required to be set up,” the court said.

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