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September 25, 2018

Money laundering case: SC stops special court from unfreezing Omni Group accounts

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September 25, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) constituted to probe the Rs35 billion money laundering case disclosed to the Supreme Court that 33 more suspicious accounts had been detected.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Umer Ata Bandyaal and Justice Ijazul Ahsen, resumed the hearing into a suo moto case over an investigation into fake transactions worth billions of rupees conducted through several mainstream banks via ‘benami’ accounts. The apex court also refrained lower courts from unfreezing the bank accounts of the accused.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Frayal Talpur and others are the respondents in the case being investigated by the FIA for using fake accounts and their alleged involvement in the fraudulent bank transactions to the tune of Rs35 billion. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Additional Director General, Economic Crime Wing, Ehsan Sadiq, head of Joint Investigation Team (JIT), while submitting a progress report before the apex court stated that 33 more suspicious accounts were identified that were also being scrutinized. It is pertinent to mention here that in early September, the Supreme Court had constituted a six-member Joint Investigation Team to probe into the money laundering and the fake accounts case.

The members of the JIT included 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, Islamabad, Muhammad Afzal, Director, Specialized Companies Division, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Islamabad; and Brigadier Shahid Parvez of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The court had directed the JIT to submit its progress report after every fortnight. In pursuance of the court’s direction, the JIT informed the apex court on Monday that as many as 334 people were involved in conducting transactions through the bank accounts in question. The JIT head further told the court that 210 companies also were linked with the fake bank accounts. During the hearing, the Chief Justice inquired if any progress was made in investigations regarding money sent through sea launches. Ahsen Sadiq replied in the negative.

The Chief Justice, Mian Saqib Nisar, observed that Arif Khan, an accountant of Omni Group, also has an integral role in the matter. The JIT head submitted that Arif is not in Pakistan and he has no information about his whereabouts. The FIA Additional Director General contended that efforts are underway for the repatriation of the accused in the instant case adding they are also coordinating with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) for sharing the records to conduct the investigation effectively. He further submitted that 47 companies involved in the case have a direct nexus with the Omni Group. To a court's query, the JIT head submitted that the Omni Group owns 16 sugar mills.

During the hearing, the Chief Justice asked Shahid Hamid, counsel for Omni Group, as to why the JIT expenditures should not be borne by the Omni Group. The Chief Justice asked why should the government pay if someone else has stolen the money. The learned counsel contended that all their accounts are frozen and they don’t even have the money to pay salaries to their employees. The court then directed the special court not to issue ruling on the Omni Group’s petition to unfreeze their accounts. The Chief Justice also directed the special court not to give any rulings without informing the Supreme Court. Later, the court adjourned the hearing for 10 days.

Meanwhile, the court directed shifting Anwar Majeed, Chief Executive Omni Group, his son Abdul Ghani Majeed as well as Hussain Lawai to jail after the medical board declared them fit to join the interrogation. On the last hearing, the court had directed for constitution of a medical board led by Surgeon General of Pakistan Lt Gen Zahid Hameed.

On Monday, the Additional Attorney General submitted a report, filed by the Medical Board. The court was informed that the board had declared Anwar Majeed as having a normal cardiac status and is advised to continue minimal medication, which he is taking for the control of blood pressure. “He is considered fit at present to undergo interrogation,” the Board recommended.

Similarly referring to the status of Abdul Ghani Majeed, son of Anwar Majeed, the Board recommended surgical management for hemorrhoids. At present, he can be managed outside the hospital stating however, he should be kept under observation for any increased bleeding from rectum, till a surgery is performed. The board further said moreover, he may also be counseled for an early surgical treatment. “He is fit at present to undergo interrogation while avoiding a prolonged sitting posture till surgical cure of his hemorrhoids,” the board recommended. Likewise, in case of Hussain Lawai, the Board submitted that the patient is considered to have a normal cardiac status and is advised to continue the minimal medication which he is taking for the control of blood pressure. “He is considered fit at present to undergo interrogation”, the Board recommended. After the report, the court directed to immediately shift, Anwar Majeed CEO Omni Group, his son Abdul Ghani Majeed and Hussain Lawai to jail and disposed of the case.

The Chief Justice, while addressing Advocate General, Sindh, also warned the Chief Minister Sindh against giving any favour to the accused and if the court came to know about any of it, strict action would be taken. The Chief Justice also hinted that the court may transfer them from Sindh to the Punjab prisons in that case.

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