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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday remarked that the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that probed the fake accounts case "exceeded its mandate" by writing recommendations in its letter.
The apex court took strong exception to placing the names of the 172 individuals, including former president Asif Ali Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, on the Exit Control List (ECL) for their alleged involvement in money laundering/fake bank accounts case and directed the federal government to reviews its decision and submit a reply.
A two-member bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar and Justice Ijazul Ahsen resumed hearing into a case regarding an investigation into the fake transactions worth billions through several mainstream banks via ‘benami’ accounts.
Former President Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and others are the respondents in the matter being investigated by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for using fake accounts and their alleged involvement in fraudulent bank transactions to the tune of Rs35 billion.
On September 6, the apex court had constituted a six-member JIT to probe a money laundering and fake accounts case. Headed by Ahsan Sadiq, Additional Director General (Economic Crime Wing), FIA Headquarters, Islamabad, the JIT had been given all 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. The same bench at the Lahore Registry on December 24 had directed counsels for Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur, Omni Group, Bahria Town including Malik Riaz and Zain Malik to file their replies in five days and had ordered for listing the instant case on December 31 in Islamabad.
The court had directed Chief Executive Bahria Town Malik Riaz as well as Zain Malik to appear before it in person on the said date. The court had issued these directives after the JIT submitted its findings before it.
Following the report submitted by the JIT, the federal government the other day put 172 suspects including Asif Zardari, Faryal Talpur, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, on the ECL for their involvement in money laundering and fake bank accounts case.
On Monday, Khawaja Tariq Rahim, counsel for Bahria Town and Zain Malik, told the court that they have submitted their replies, while Shahid Hamid, counsel for Chairman Omni Group Anwar Majeed and his son, also submitted replies on behalf of his clients. Muneer Bhatti, counsel for Omni Group, told the court that he had also filed replies on behalf of Ali Mustafa Majeed and others.
Similarly, senior advocate Sardar Latif Khosa told the court that senior counsel Farooq H Naek, who was representing Asif Zardari in the matter, had recused himself from appearing in the court as the JIT had also made him a suspect. The chief justice said that Naek being the senior counsel will not be allowed to recuse from the matter and asked Naek, who was present in the court, to continue and submit his reply within three days.
The chief justice said that if the reply satisfied the court, they will set aside the observations and recommendations made by JIT regarding Naek.
Latif Khosa informed that the media ran a fake audio call in his voice, at which the court directed the FIA to investigate the matter and submit report.
The court summoned Minister of State for Interior Shaharyar Afridi to explain the government’s position as to how the names of the suspects were placed on the ECL. The chief justice said the court had not yet examined the JIT report and not given final decision in the matter in hand. He said the JIT report is not a divine revelation.
Addressing Shaharyar Afridi while referring to the rumours about toppling of Sindh government, the chief justice said violation of the Constitution would not be allowed.
“We did not allow derailment of democracy at a time when there were threats, then how can we allow it now,” the CJP remarked and told the minister to inform his elders that the country will be run in accordance with law and Constitution.
The chief justice told the minister that the government must issue a clear statement regarding this matter and questioned how the governor rule could be imposed without properly understanding the issue at hand. He said the governor rule will be struck down within a minute if it was imposed.
Addressing Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan, the chief justice asked as to how he will justify placing the names of 172 people on the ECL?
“It is very strange that the name of a sitting chief minister was also placed on the ECL,” the CJP said, and asked the attorney general that after the CM, tomorrow he may put the name of National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) chairman on the ECL. The chief justice suggested that in order to balance the equation, let names of four ministers placed on the ECL.
The attorney general submitted that the impression of the imposition of governor rule was being given by the media. He assured that every decision will be taken in accordance with the Constitution.
Faisal Siddiqui, counsel for the FIA, submitted that the JIT did not have the mandate to recommend that someone be arrested or a corruption reference be filed against them, adding that the court had given the JIT limited mandate to the extent of probing the matter and then submit its findings. He continued that in pursuance of the court’s direction, the JIT had given its recommendations in 16 cases that were investigated.
The counsel for the FIA explained that the JIT recommended the anti-graft body to further probe the matter and then in the light of its findings, the NAB may file a reference.
Similarly, the counsel contended that the JIT has neither recommended arrest of any accused nor suggested disqualification of the public representatives in its findings.
The JIT team headed by Additional Director General FIA Ehsan Sadiq as well as Director General FIA Bashir Memon appeared before the court.
The attorney general informed the court that the head of JIT wrote a letter to the Ministry of Interior, recommending the government for placing the names of the accused on the ECL.
The AG told the court the matter started with letter of December 26, dispatched by the JIT to the Ministry of Interior for placing the names of suspects on the ECL and the federal cabinet the next day took decision in this regard. He said the JIT was responsible for creating the confusion.
The court noted that the government should not have relied on the recommendations of the JIT and then putting names of the accused on the ECL. The chief justice observed that the JIT had no mandate to do so and the court is final authority to take the decision.
The chief justice made it clear that the court would ensure continuation of the democratic process in the country and said that democracy would not be derailed.
Admonishing Ehsan Sadiq, head of the JIT, the CJP asked him that the court did not ask them to recommend placing of names on the ECL. “You have exceeded your mandate,” the CJP asked the official.
“Put my name also on the ECL and I also direct that your name be placed too on the ECL,” the CJP told Ehsan Sadiq.
The chief justice further asked the JIT head as to how the CM Sindh can leave the country for which his name was placed on the ECL, adding that if the chief minister has to travel to Turkey with the prime minister then what will happen?
Ehsan Sadiq submitted that they did not consider the status of an individual, but examined his role and recommend names for placing on the ECL with bonafide intentions.
The chief justice when asked the JIT head reason behind placing Murad ALI Shah's name on the ECL, Ehsan Sadiq replied that mostly in past when people were involved in crimes or under investigation, they flee the country, therefore, the JIT keeping in view of such nature of apprehensions, recommended placement of suspects on the ECL.
The chief justice observed that the court had not yet given any decision on the findings of the JIT report, therefore, it should not have exceeded its mandate and should have worked within the mandate granted by the court.
Meanwhile, the court directed the government to review its decision of putting the names on the ECL and submit a reply.
Earlier, during the proceedings, the chief justice asked Malik Riaz why his name often comes in wrongdoings. Malik Riaz replied that he did nothing wrong. The chief justice said he plays important role in making and toppling governments. Malik Riaz, however, denied any role in this regard.
The chief justice asked Malik Riaz to give Rs500 billion and get rid of the instant case. The counsel for Bahria Town submitted that they had acquired the land of Qasim Garden in accordance with rules and regulations and constructed the towers on the said land in accordance of building laws.
The counsel rejected the JIT report. The chief justice said the name of Malik Riaz crop up everywhere, adding that whether it is the matter related to Takht Parhi forests, land of Malir Development Authority and Qasim Garden etc, his name surfaced.
At this, the counsel submitted that Bahria Town had always implemented the orders of the court in letter and spirit and recalled that recently it had also expressed his willingness to purchase the land in different dehs of Malir for a price equal to the market price of the land in the year 2018.
Meanwhile, the court also ran video clip of a programme hosted by Kamran Shahid at Dunya TV, discussing the report of the JIT. The chief justice expressed his anger over the talk show and questioned as to why the media is not abiding by its judgment given in anchorperson Arshad Sharif case.
The court directed Chairman Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to submit a report stating as to whether the instant programme ‘On the Front’ with Kamran Shahid and ‘Dunya Kamran Khan Kay Sath’ that were recently aired on Dunya News TV violate its judgment already delivered. The court adjourned further hearing until January 6.