Thursday August 18, 2022

Fallen marriage, Interpol, and red notices

The complaint by actor and model Khushbakht Mirza (known as Sophia Mirza) carried a long charge sheet of allegations, urging the FIA to act against Umar Farooq Zahoor to prevent financial crimes against Pakistan

July 05, 2022
From Left: Dubai-based Pakistani-Norwegian businessman Umar Farooq Zahoor, former special assistant to the prime minister on accountability Shahzad Akbar, and actor and model Khushbakht Mirza. — Photos provided by the author
From Left: Dubai-based Pakistani-Norwegian businessman Umar Farooq Zahoor, former special assistant to the prime minister on accountability Shahzad Akbar, and actor and model Khushbakht Mirza. — Photos provided by the author

LONDON/DUBAI: In early June 2020, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Lahore’s Corporate Circle received a sensational complaint about alleged fraud and money-laundering of around Rs16 billion from a concerned citizen, Khushbakht Mirza, about the Dubai-based Pakistani-Norwegian businessman Umar Farooq Zahoor.

The complaint by actor and model Khushbakht Mirza (known as Sophia Mirza) carried a long charge sheet of allegations, urging the FIA to act against Umar Farooq Zahoor to prevent financial crimes against Pakistan.

The complaint made its way to the PTI government’s federal cabinet agenda via the Interior Ministry, being run then by Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) Chairman Mirza Shehzad Akbar, and the federal government allowed the FIA to probe the alleged fraud of over Rs16 billion by Umar and his relative Saleem Ahmad.

The cabinet was told by the Interior Ministry that two separate cases have been registered against Umar by the Corporate Crime Circle of the FIA after completing inquiries in both cases. During the inquiries, it surfaced that Umar and the co-accused had allegedly committed a bank fraud of $89.2m in Oslo, Norway, in 2010 and another fraud of $12m in Bern, Switzerland, in 2004.

This correspondent has obtained a copy of the original complaint by Khushbakht Mirza made before the FIA in June 2020 which triggered action against Umar. In her application of allegations over two pages as a “lawful citizen of Pakistan”, the actress didn’t reveal anywhere that she was Umar's former wife.She alleged that Umar and his family were involved in money-laundering; had committed “crimes and frauds in different countries including Norway, Oslo; defrauded a bank in tune of $20 million dollars; was convicted and wanted in Norway; committed fraud of $120 million in Switzerland; was involved in smuggling of minors; committed fraud of 9.37 million Turkish Lira; executed shady deal of $510 million in Ghana; owns millions of Dollars in cash in the shape of black money and many houses and properties in Dubai and Pakistan worth hundreds of millions of Dollars including in Dubai’s upper class districts, Sialkot, Gwadar and Islamabad.”

The cabinet did not ask any questions before approving the summary, but what the Interior Ministry hid from the cabinet was the most crucial and damning fact — the concerned citizen Khushbakht Mirza was actually the former wife of Umar with whom she has a long-running dispute over the custody of their two daughters. Twin sisters Zainab and Zunerah have been living with their father in Dubai since 2008 after the couple ended up in a bitter divorce.

The cabinet was not informed that the Supreme Court of Pakistan and a Shariah Court of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had already settled the matter of custody of the couple’s two daughters. The cabinet was informed that the FIA knew well about the whereabouts of Umar.

Before the registration of two corruption cases, Khushbakht had also case registered against Umar and others for kidnapping his own daughters. The FIA, despite being cognizant of the fact that it is a settled law of country that case of abducting own children cannot be registered against any of the parent, proceeded with registration of case against Umar under instructions of Shehzad Akbar, who was at the time Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Immediately after the Federal cabinet approved the summary, the FIA Lahore started action against Umar Farooq Zahoor: his name was placed on the Exit Control List (ECL); non-bailable warrants in one of the FIRs were obtained from the Court without fulfilling the legal requirements and on the basis of said non-bailable warrants, his passport and CNIC were blacklisted and Red Warrants were issued through Interpol by National Crime Bureau (NCB) Pakistan for arresting him.

Umar Farooq Zahoor, who is also Ambassador at Large for the Republic of Liberia since 2019 for the regions of Middle East and SouthEast Asia including Pakistan, initiated a legal case against the FIA action and the matter reached before the court where key facts came to the light, establishing that the FIA was used for personal purposes.

The Additional Session Judge, Lahore, Rafaqat Ali Gondal, vide his order dated 29 March 2021, set-aside the non-bailable warrants issued earlier as same were obtained without following the mandatory legal procedure provided under Criminal Code.

The Court observed that Section 87 and 88 of CrPC 1898 provide a complete procedure, which has to be followed before declaring any accused person to be a proclaimed offender. The court noted that proper notices have to be issued to the accused person before issuing perpetual warrants against him or declaring him a proclaimed offender, but in this case “no such notice has ever been issued to the applicant.”

Umar also approached the Lahore High Court for removal of Red Warrants issued against him. Justice Shujaat Ali Khan, after hearing the case at length, directed the FIA on June 9, 2021 to immediately withdraw the Red Warrants.

The court observed that any criminal proceedings against Umar who enjoys immunity under Article 29 and Article 31 of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations — immunity to the ambassadors and diplomats against all kinds of criminal prosecution, arrest and detention.

The FIA challenged the said order before the Supreme Court of Pakistan where the high court order was upheld, but the FIA has so far failed to withdraw the illegal Red Warrants. It is worth noting that Umar has also filed a Contempt Petition against the Secretary Interior and others for not implementing the Order of the Lahore High Court.

A recent court order has again exposed how the FIA officials acted outside of the law to go after Umar while Shehzad Akbar and FIA’s Lahore Chief monitored the case and dedicated their efforts in the case. Despite high court’s clear orders that Umar enjoys diplomatic immunity, the FIA again issued a Diffusion Notice against him and Saleem Ahmad on the pretext of active non-bailable warrants against them in cases of corruption.

Umar approached Judicial Magistrate Lahore in the court of Ghulam Murtaza Virk who heard the case. The court’s order reveals that FIA effectively lied to the Interpol that it had permission of the same court for action against the businessman and issued Diffusion Notice in pursuance of the said permission. The judicial magistrate that “from the bare perusal of reports it reveals that in both the cases FIR 36 of 2020 and 40 of 2020 neither any non-bailable warrants of arrest have been issued from this court nor any report has been submitted by FIA. Therefore, the stance taken by the FIA authorities in the diffusion letter written to the Interpol that challan in both the cases have been submitted before this court is against the record”.

Umar Farooq’s name was mentioned in breaking news headlines when the PTI government had fell oout with Bashir Memon, the former DG FIA, who publicly alleged that he was asked by former PM Imran Khan to cook up cases against Maryam Nawaz, Khawaja Asif and others and that he was sidelined for refusing to abide by any illegality.

In March 2022, it was reported in the charge sheet against Memon that he had facilitated illegal Pakistan visits of Umar. Media at the time linked Umar with Bashir Memon and raised the issue of alleged corruption but none had any idea that at the heart of the whole controversy is a broken marriage and custody battle of two daughters, both 15.

During the hearing of the same case of Bashir Memon before the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the FIA presented a report before Pakistan Supreme Court that there was a non-bailable arrest warrant for Umar while in fact there was none.

Documents show that the FIA Lahore started both corruption cases against Umar in October 2020 when authorities in Norway had already closed the case and Switzerland authorities were about to drop the case, delete the arrest warrant and end the investigation. It is understood that the FIA was well aware about the status of both cases when it opened cases in Pakistan.

Court records show that authorities in Switzerland had started a case against Umar and New Zealand national Shaun Morgan for running an illegal bank called “Bank International” from December 2003 to February 2004 for allegedly misleading clients into investment transactions. Swiss authorities confirmed to this reporter that on 7 December 2020 the case against Umar was dropped without any further action due to lack of evidence and the time-bar issue.

Public Prosecutor of Kenton Zurich Jean-Richard-dit-Bresssel confirmed it was decided “the criminal case against Umar for fraud is discontinued” on October 5, 2020. Official papers of Switzerland government confirm that arrest warrants issued by the Interpol against Umar were deleted in March 2021 after the closure of the investigation.

About the same case in Switzerland, a Turkish citizen Erhan Kanionglulari had made a complaint in 2005 to Pakistan authorities, and a probe was started against Umar on Turkish embassy’s request. The Turkish national had alleged he was the victim of alleged fraud in Switzerland to the tune of 9.73 million Euros.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) started an inquiry against Umar while the Turkish national visited Pakistan to assist the inquiry.

In a report submitted by NAB to the Karachi Accountability Court, the court was told that the Turkish national failed to provide any documentary or oral evidence to support his allegations. For seven years the Turkish embassy didn’t cooperate with NAB and DG NAB Sindh finally wrote to the Accountability Court, Karachi, in August 2013 to end the case. The case was closed on February 25, 2014.

A case was registered against Umar in Norway in 2010 on the allegation that some bank officials of Nordea bank of Norway colluded with some private persons to fraudulently deprive Randi Nilsen of 89.2 million Norwegian Kroners and transferred the same to UAE banks.

Official papers of the Oslo police confirm that the case against Umar was dismissed on May 12, 2020. “The case is dismissed since it is assumed there is no reasonable grounds for investigation whether a crime has been committed, cf. the Criminal Procedure Act 224 1st Paragraph,” said the Oslo Police District.

Shahzad Akbar was sent questions about his role in taking the complaint to the cabinet, but he did not reply in four days. Khushbakht Mirza was asked why she did not declare in her complaint that Umar was her former husband, and including cases where the inquiries had been closed, but she did not respond. However, she said: “I can provide all documents and orders regarding case … in couple of days.”

The News sent questions to the media spokespersons of both the FIA and the Ministry of Interior. The spokespersons promised to provide their versions but despite several reminders, they did not send their versions.

The FIA spokesman said the official leading the FIA’s investigation was no more alive and several officers involved were no more in their posts. The News will publish versions of Interior Ministry and the FIA as soon as they are received.