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November 13, 2018

Multan Metro: Probe exposes untouchables behind money laundering rackets

Top Story

November 13, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has traced 49 different transactions worth $2.8 million (Rs374.78 million) from Pakistan to China in Multan Metro Bus Project case from June 2016 to March 2017. However, the very moment when the FIA reached the central character of this scam, the case was suddenly taken over by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in December 2017 in a rather mysterious manner and all the developments on the case as to who was behind money laundering were stopped.

When an FIA high-up was asked by The News that even if the case was taken up by the NAB why they stopped investigations after reaching very close to the central character, he responded that the NAB has the authority to take complete control of any case and stop the FIA from doing any further work on any specific case.

What is Multan Metro scam? The China Securities and Regulatory Commission (CSRC) detected an unusual amount of $35 million (Rs4.68 billion) in the 16 offshore companies’ bank accounts of Chinese company ‘Yabaite' and started an inquiry. During the investigation, the Chinese company informed the CSRC that out of $35 million (Rs4.68 billion), it received $17.78 million (Rs2.37 billion) from Pakistan for work on the Multan Metro Bus Project. To justify its claim the company sent some official letters from former chief minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed and Senator Kulsoom Perveen. ‘Yabaite’ also submitted a statement of the CEO of its Pakistani partner company ‘Capital Engineering’, ‘Faisal Subhan’ to the CSRC. According to the CEO’s statement, the company is allegedly owned by former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and he is mere a front man of Shahbaz. Later the SECP probe proved that all these letters were fake.

How the FIA detected $2.8m (Rs374.78m) transactions from Pakistan to China via Dubai? After detecting the doubtful transaction in accounts of Chinese company ‘Yabaite’, the CSRC approached Pakistani regulator Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and asked for an inquiry. The SECP handed over the case to the FIA for further investigations. As per the FIA findings, Yabaite received money from 16 companies including six from the UAE, four from China, two from Austria, two from Hong Kong and one each from Malaysia, Singapore and United States. Out of these 16 companies only one company received money from Pakistan.

In the latest disclosures, as per the transactions details probed by the FIA last year, two Karachi-based companies ‘Horizon International’ and ‘AG International’ transferred $2.8 million (Rs374.78 million) from August 2016 to March 2017 in 49 transactions to a Dubai-based company ‘London Silk General Trading LLC’, International City Dubai. This Dubai-based company then forwarded this amount to Yabaite. All the transactions were made from same branch of a private bank located in Cloth Market Karachi.

A case study on handlers of rackets who set up fake bank accounts and laundered money: A search to find out characters of this case using their CNIC data and a thorough investigation conducted by The News and reported on August 30, 2017 and September 9, 2017 showed that the CEO of the Pakistani company Capital Engineering Faisal Subhan is a poor man, working as a helper at a crockery shop in Kasaai Gali of Raja Bazaar, Rawalpindi. It was clear from The News investigations that some powerful people in Pakistan managed to set up a company in China and later made many transactions from Pakistan to China via Dubai and connected it with Multan Metro Project. All this was done with a well-thought-out strategy to fix responsibility on some important people, but the planners could not succeed as all the characters used to set up fake companies and fake bank accounts were completely exposed later. This investigation can also lead to find out the ‘real powerful players’ behind opening the fake bank accounts in the names of poor Pakistanis and transferring huge amount abroad. These real players are so powerful that no one can touch them and they can also manage to get the case transferred from one institution to another or get the inquiries against them closed. It is interesting however that how all this game was played; the money gets transferred and later the transactions are used to target some individuals. It’s a case study.

Transfer of $ 2.8 million (Rs374.78m) from dubious Pakistani companies to China via Dubai: Now coming to the transfer of money aspect, again mysterious characters like Faisal Subhan came on scene. A thorough probe into the matter proves that the person involved in transferring huge money from Pakistan to China is a dubious character. The bank transactions and other relevant documents show that one Muhammad Aslam Khan is the owner of one of the company ‘Horizon International’. However, in reality he is a stamp maker who later confessed while talking to The News that he was used by some people who offered huge financial benefits. Aslam claims that after the FIA approached him, all those in contact with him for transferring cash abroad suddenly disappeared and switched off their mobile phones.

Who is Muhammad Aslam Khan?: Muhammad Aslam Khan -- the owner of Horizon International -- was unreachable as the contact information provided on the company’s profile was fake. The News succeeded to reach Aslam Khan after almost six months search through his son Muhammad Arsalan Khan who works as a helper at a construction site in DHA Karachi.

Interestingly, during this long probe, The News came to know that the stamp-maker Aslam Khan himself used more than two dozen mobile SIMs during this period, whereas his permanent number was locked. According to mobile phone operators, a locked number's information cannot be accessed and this facility is extended to only few high ups of the concerned cellular company or to the members of secret services. But, Muhammad Aslam (owner of Horizon International) claims he belongs to none of the above mentioned categories and is just an ordinary stamp-maker while admitting he was used by some ‘mysterious’ people.

Aslam Khan and his ‘mysterious’ people are however very powerful. The moment FIA reached to Aslam, not only FIA was stopped from probing further but NAB also took full control of the case and possession of the complete record leaving nothing with FIA. The process to dig out facts about money transfers abroad was stopped and Aslam Khan repeatedly confirmed to The News (latest on Sunday the November 11, 2018) that he was neither approached by FIA or NAB after the initial contact by the FIA.

Aslam Khan -- A mysterious character: Aslam Khan himself is not a simple character like the other poor who came to the limelight in the recent weeks after huge sums of money were traced in their bank accounts and who had nothing to do with the cash fraudulently parked in their accounts. When The News first contacted Aslam Khan he asked this reporter that he was busy and that shortly he will task his business manager to contact this reporter and respond to the queries. However, later when The News contacted him and informed him about all the information related to him available with The News, he agreed to speak to The News and revealed everything during many on the record interviews.

Background of Horizon International: In order to verify whether both the companies Horizon International and AG International are registered, The News checked with the SECP and it was divulged that Horizon International is registered, while AG International is not. As per the SECP record, Muhammad Aslam is not in the list of company’s directors whereas the address and phone numbers provided to SECP also do not exist. However, the banking record, available with The News, shows Aslam Khan as owner of the company Horizon International.

Documents available with The News reveal that Muhammad Aslam Khan opened a company account in National Bank’s Customs House Branch Karachi on 31st May 2016. As per the record of the company’s account, the account remained active from June 2016 to March 2017. However, after March 2017, the account is dormant which shows that account was made only for sending the money abroad. The record of the bank account further shows that Rs23.89 million transactions were made through this one account only and the whole amount was deposited in the form of cash. As per record, the account was used for parking big amounts that were deposited one day and were transferred to another bank account the next day. Interestingly, all the transactions were less than Rs2.5 million as any amount above it would require some clearance. From Aslam’s account, the money was also transferred to some accounts in Soneri Bank. From Soneri Bank, the money of Horizon International and AG International was used to be transferred to the bank accounts of a Dubai-based company for onward transfer to the accounts of Chinese company Yabaite.

Aslam’s story: How he opened company & bank account: Talking to The News, Muhammad Aslam repeated the same story which he narrated to the FIA investigators when they first approached him. He claimed that he owns Horizon International and was doing an import export business. He claimed that he imports cloth from China via Dubai and all the transactions made from Karachi to China via Dubai were carried out through legal channels. However when this reporter told Aslam that if he runs a multimillion dollars business then why is he still running a shop of stamps. Aslam was shocked on this revelation and after some hesitation he narrated the truth. "I am an ordinary person and have nothing to do with this import export business. I was lured by some regular clients of mine -- he recalled his client's name as Haris. He offered me to do an import and export business. He said I will not have to invest a single penny and will only have to accompany him to some offices, banks and sign some papers,” Aslam said. He that Haris (May be a fictitous name as it was the name this person used while introducing himself to Aslam) offered him a lucrative amount.

“The next day, Haris took me to an office located near Customs House Karachi where I met with one ‘Nauman Sb’ who claimed to be the owner of the company. Nauman Sb asked Haris and one other person to take me to the National Bank for opening an account. After opening the account, they asked me to sign on the authority letter so that I should not be bothered to come to bank time and again,” Aslam narrated his side of the story, adding, “Though Haris remained in contact with me regularly, but after that day, I never met Nauman Sb in person again, except on few occasions when he talked to me on telephone to collect his money from Haris. They paid me Rs50,000 twice and nothing else.”

When asked whether he also opened an account in Soneri Bank as Horizon International used to send money from Soneri Bank to the bank accounts of the Dubai company, Aslam said he never visited that bank and doesn't know how an account was opened in the said bank. He said he doesn't even know how more than two dozen SIMs were obtained through his CNIC number. The case is now with the NAB Multan.

The News asked Aslam when he told FIA authorities that the company belonged to him, how he produced receipts of some import goods, while he was telling this reporter that he has nothing to do with any affairs of the said company except being used by those ‘mysterious persons’ out of greed for some money. Aslam said when the FIA contacted him and asked to produce the record of the company, he asked them to call him later. He said, in the meantime, he talked to Haris and Nauman Sb. “They asked me to take postal address from FIA officials and inform them that the record will be sent to them in the shortest possible time,” Aslam said. “Later when FIA officials again contacted me I took the address from them and passed it to Haris. I don’t know what happened later,” Aslam revealed to The News. The FIA officials confirmed to The News about receiving some receipts of imports which had no evidentiary value as the SECP and bank records clearly prove that everything was fishy and well planned to achieve some other objective.

More Information from Aslam Khan: After this, the next day, Aslam contacted this reporter and said he forgot to mention something. “I forgot to mention something yesterday. Haris took me to Lahore in January 2017 and we stayed there in a hotel for two days. We met with someone, which I don't remember, in the Punjab Secretariat. Later, I was taken to the HBL branch near Punjab Secretariat to open an account where they took my thumb impressions and fulfilled other requirements,” Aslam said, adding, “However, the account could not be opened as there was some problem in matching of my thumb impressions with the Nadra record.”

When this reporter asked if he remembers the name of the hotel where he stayed, Aslam said he doesn't. This reporter also confirmed that Aslam has no account in the HBL.

NAB's version: The News then contacted the NAB Multan to know the status of the NAB inquiry into Multan Metro Bus Project. However, the relevant official and inquiry officer of the case Muhammad Shahid, Deputy Director, refused to give any reason as to why NAB is not proceeding with the issue of such huge amount of money transferred abroad after stopping the FIA from doing so. Repeated requests of The News went in vain and the inquiry officer opted not to give any reason for arresting different officials attached with the Multan Metro Project while stopping probe on the real issue of transfer of money abroad to Chinese company Yabaite which claimed to Chinese companies regulator that the amounts were coming to its accounts from work on the Multan Metro.

The officials in the FIA and NAB believe that all out efforts are still being made to divert the attention from Aslam Khan and those ‘mysterious people’ working with him and were directly involved in sending huge cash abroad to the accounts of Chinese company Yabaite through a UAE-based company. Insiders in the FIA and NAB in their conversations with The News are of the view that the ‘mysterious people’ behind Aslam Khan are so powerful that many high-profile arrests and political developments took place only to continue hiding the identity of these people and for forcibly diverting the attention from them.

The News also contacted spokesperson for the NAB on Monday to know the latest progress of the NAB probe. The spokesperson in his written reply said, “The matter of Multan Metro is under scrutiny. The details of inquiry cannot be shared at this stage. Media is requested to kindly avoid speculation in this regard.”

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