Pakistan’s Chief Justice Saqib Nisar today hinted at constituting a high-power Joint Investigation Team – similar to the one formed in the Panama Papers case against Nawaz Sharif – to probe the money laundering allegations against former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister, according to media reports. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) approached the apex court after Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur failed to appear before a joint investigation team probing alleged money laundering of Rs 35 billion through fake accounts, the News reported. On August 1, the FIA had issued notices to Zardari and Talpur to appear before the JIT in Islamabad on Saturday. But the duo did not appear.
During today’s hearing by a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Nisar, Justice Umar Ata Bandia said that the money stashed in accounts is illegal. On this the chief justice observed that this is black money and the court will not spare anyone, the paper said. Zardari, Talpur, former Pakistan Stock Exchange chairman Hussain Lawai, Summit Bank Senior Vice-President Taha Raza are among those being investigated by a seven-member JIT led by FIA Additional Director General Najaf Mirza for allegedly facilitating 29 ‘fake’ accounts in Summit Bank, Sindh Bank and United Bank Limited. When Chief Justice Nisar asked for the formation of a JIT, defence counsel Aitzaz Ahsan raised objections, the Express Tribune reported.
Responding to Ahsan’s query if the trial will be heard by the top court or a lower court, the chief justice said the trial can be conducted in SC as well. He added the JIT would be formed in a similar fashion to the one formed the in the Nawaz Sharif case as a “balancing act”, the paper said. He also hinted at forming a special court to hear and sought result in a month.
On August 4, in their reply submitted to the apex court, Zardari and Talpur had expressed reservations against Mirza leading the investigation team. The Pakistan Peoples Party had called for the court to direct the FIA to conduct a fair investigation without any harassment or defamation.
The top judge urged Zardari and Talpur to appear before the FIA and prove their innocence. “If they are declared innocent, I will order an FIR against DG FIA Bashir Memon and others myself,” the chief justice said. Zardari served as the 11th President of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013. He rose to prominence after his marriage to Benazir Bhutto in 1987.
During the hearing, Chief Justice Nisar remarked that he had been threatened with dire consequences post-retirement. “I am not afraid,” he said. DG FIA Memon told court that the Sindh Police was harassing witnesses as the accused were seeking to dispose the case. Chiding the provincial police, Chief Justice Nisar directed IG Sindh Amjad Javed Saleemi to probe the matter and submit a report on August 8. The court adjourned hearing until August 13.