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June 24, 2019

Fake bank accounts scam: Prosecution of influential foreigner may strain Pak ties with Gulf State


June 24, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The alleged involvement, prosecution and designation as a proclaimed offender of a powerful national of a Gulf country in the fake bank accounts has heightened risks of souring Pakistan’s relations with the oil rich state because of his connections with the ruling family of his homeland.

In his position as the chairman/director of the Summit Bank, Nasser Abdullah Lootah figures in the alleged fake bank transactions. Knowledgeable circles fear marring of relations with the Gulf State if Lootah was further dragged into the proceedings, currently going on in an accountability court of Islamabad in which former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur are arraigned.

The other day, deputy prosecutor of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Muzaffar Abbasi told the court that during the course of investigation Zardari admitted that he knew Lootah, a proclaimed offender.

Informed quarters say Lootah, who fluently speaker Urdu, is very close to the rulers of his country and is a household name in elite of Karachi and Sindh. For years, he has been spending a lot of time in Karachi apart from visiting his own country.

They say Lootah has a palatial house in Karachi and ranches in Sindh, which are equally frequented by politicians and senior officials. Being part of his social circle was considered a status symbol in Sindh, they add.

They claim Lootah has very close social relations with top leaders of all important political parties of Pakistan. A Google search reveals that Lootah is the chairman and founder of Nasser Abdulla Lootah Group (NALG) set up more than 45 years ago in his country. It has a well-diversified strategic portfolio that includes travel, shipping, cargo, logistics, mineral water, real estates, trading information technology, interactive media, production and brand media communications. He is patron of the Australian Business Council, based in his country. Due to strong leadership capabilities, he was appointed as the director for the office of a former ruler of his country.

Lootah finds a lot of mention in the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) that probed the fake bank accounts and prepared a voluminous report. The findings were later handed over to the NAB on the direction of the Supreme Court to prepare references against several accused.

At one point, the report said the JIT summoned 885 persons. However, 767 persons appeared and were examined whereas 118 did not show up and could not be questioned. Lootah is included among five accused against whom arrest warrants have been issued by the court.

The report also said that on July 6, 2018, the enquiry to the extent of one fake account maintained in the Summit Bank, Karachi was converted into a first information report. Lootah is included among 24 accused – operators, beneficial owners, abettors and bankers.

According to the JIT report, the scrutiny of 13,809 transactions through these fake bank accounts identified Rs14.92 billion, which kept circulating through 1,245 transactions within the complex web of fake accounts in various branches of five different banks. This is layering – an attempt to blend the crime proceeds with bank loans and various subsidies/ostensibly genuine business transactions. Lootah’s name is again cited.

The report said when confronted [not mentioned the place] Lootah admitted that, in fact, all funds (Rs14.6 billion) were arranged by Abdul Ghani Majid and he is merely his nominee. As per regulations 13 (1) of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act 1947 read with regulation 6 Chapter XX Foreign Exchange Manual, Summit Bank equity injection by M/s Suroor Investments (a non-resident company of Lootah) must have been paid in foreign currency via international remittance or a foreign currency account maintained domestically and no domestic equity arrangement was permissible, the report alleged and added that hence the law was disregarded for this special arrangement in favour of the beneficiary i.e. Abdul Ghani Majid.

In a nutshell, Summit Bank may be termed a “Front Bank”, also known in local banking circles as “project white”, raised to serve as money-laundering vehicle.

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