December issue 2018

By | Cover Story | Published 7 months ago

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairperson of the PPP, was asked to appear before the six-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing fake bank accounts, on November 28. The PPP chairperson, however, skipped the hearing.

The JIT has already issued summons for his father, former president Asif Ali Zardari, to appear on November 29. The PPP leader, along with his sister Faryal Talpur and associates, face charges of stashing Rs 35 billion abroad through illegal transactions. The brother-sister duo have appeared before the banking court multiple times.

The case, which first opened in 2015, traces fake bank accounts and assets back to Pakistan’s affluent personalities, including frontmen with alleged links to political bigwigs. Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar, Federal Minister for Law and Justice, Barrister Muhammad Farogh Naseem and former Sindh Assembly speaker Agha Siraj Dirrani are among those currently under investigation on charges of corruption and money laundering.

Both Akhtar and Naseem are accused of money laundering through an account allegedly operated by Khidmat-e-Khalq Foundation, a charity of the MQM, whereas Durrani is under investigation for allegedly holding assets beyond known sources of income.

In October,  Interpol claimed it had arrested the alleged mastermind of the money-laundering scam. The Federal Investigation Agency said Aslam Masood – chief financial officer of Omni Group, whose owner, Anwar Majeed, is in custody for allegedly maintaining the fake transactions – was arrested from Jeddah.

This coincided with the emergence of millions and billions of rupees in unused bank accounts, with the government putting the figure of the ghost accounts unearthed to date, at 5,000. A series of incidents made headlines in the local media after students and small vendors came forward with the information that they had apparently become millionaires and billionaires.

The Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability, Shahzad Akbar, said FIA authorities had identified thousands of accounts through which more than $1 billion were laundered. He added that bank accounts opened under the names of small vendors were flooded with money, only to be emptied later under a laundering bid.

Major opposition parties, including the PPP and the PML-N, have described the cases as politically motivated and fabricated, saying the government wanted to sideline key political figures through such attempts. The PPP took control of Sindh for the third consecutive term following the July 25 general election, while the PML-N became the second-largest party in the centre.

The corruption saga gained momentum in the wake of a graft court decision, which sentenced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Captain (R) Safdar to time in prison, in the Avenfield case. 

Former Punjab chief minister, Shehbaz Sharif, later replaced him as the party president. It wasn’t long until Shehbaz, who is the incumbent opposition leader in the National Assembly, met a similar fate after the anti-graft watchdog arrested him in the Ashiana Housing Scheme scam in October. The PML-N president remains in NAB custody, with the Lahore accountability court extending his physical remand to December 6.

One of Shehbaz’s closest aides, former Railways Minister, Saad Rafique is also under interrogation for alleged irregularities pertaining to the Paragon Housing Scheme and the Punjab Land Development Company. Rafique and his brother Salman have obtained bail from the Lahore High Court.