A Lahore Judicial Magistrate has cleared businessman Umar Farooq Zahoor in two cases of money-laundering and fraud – registered against Mr Zahoor by his former wife Sophia Mirza with help from former accountability minister Shahzad Akbar who had managed to get PTI govt cabinet approval for these cases.
Judge Ghulam Murtaza Virk of Judicial Magistrate Courts has acquitted Umar Farooq Zahoor and canceled two First Information Reports (FIRs) after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) informed the court that its investigations had established that the accused was not involved in fraud, money laundering, and corruption.
Both cases were started in early June 2020 after Sophia Mirza approached the FIA Lahore’s Corporate Circle with Shahzad Akbar’s help, who got the cabinet to approve the investigations, over allegations of fraud and money-laundering of around Rs16 billion by Umar Farooq Zahoor and his brother-in-law Saleem Ahmad.
Sophia Mirza had alleged that Zahoor had allegedly committed bank fraud of $89.2m in Norway in 2010 and another alleged case in Bern, Switzerland, in 2004. The former Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) Shahzad Akbar took Sophia Mirza’s complaints to the cabinet and told the cabinet that Mr Zahoor should be investigated.
Immediately after the federal cabinet approved the summary, FIA Lahore Chief Dr Rizwan (the late) started action against Zahoor: his name was placed on the Exit Control List (ECL), non-bailable warrants in one of the first information reports (FIRs) were obtained from court without fulfilling the legal requirements, and on the basis of said non-bailable warrants, his passport and CNIC were blacklisted and red notices were issued through the Interpol by National Crime Bureau (NCB) Pakistan for arresting Zahoor.
When registering the cases, Sophia Mirza used her name as a complainant Khushbakht Mirza to conceal her identity and the fact that Zahoor was her former husband and both were involved in a court dispute over the custody of their two teen daughters. Umar Farooq has publicly alleged that Sophia and her accomplices tried to extort money from him and when he refused they started cases against him using their govt connections in the PTI govt.
The FIA told the court that it issued notices and letters to the Norwegian Police Liaison Officer at Islamabad for collection of relevant evidence but no positive response has been shown by them.
The judge noted that the alleged offense was committed in the year 2010 and that case has already been closed but still, FIA had registered this case in the year 2020 while treating the said case as a predicate offense of money laundering.
The FIA told the court that during the course of the investigation, it was brought on the record that Umar Farooq Zahoor not only denied the allegations but also produced a letter from Norway Police confirming the said inquiry was closed due to lack of evidence and also produced another document of Oslo Police to the Public Prosecutor with the recommendation of dismissal of the case.
The FIA found that Sheikh Saleem Ahmed was a prominent businessman who had sent money to Pakistan through banking channels and no evidence could be brought on the record that Umar Farooq Zahoor was a beneficiary of said funds transferred by Sheikh Saleem Ahmed in Pakistan as the Umar Farooq Zahoor never owned or controlled any immovable properties in Pakistan before and after the Nordea fraud.
The judge ruled that on the basis of the FIA investigation report, the FIR stands dismissed.
The FIA told the court that the other case is also recommended for closure as the case was previously investigated in 2005 due to lack of evidence and the complainant didn’t pursue his case and refused to cooperate with the Pakistani authorities but the NAB continued investigations till 2013 and then closed the case after finding no evidence of fraud or money-laundering.
Judge Mr Ghulam Murtaza Virk has noted in his order that he minutely examined and perused the file of the FIA case which shows that “no incriminating material could be brought on record during investigation and inquiry” and therefore the FIA is cancelled and Umar Farooq Zahoor is acquitted.
Umar Farooq Zahoor welcomed the cancellation of both FIRs and his acquittal. He said: “I have maintained all along that these cases are based on revenge and were registered against me and my brother-in-law Sheikh Saleem Ahmed by Shahzad Akbar and Sophia Mirza. Allegations of money laundering and fraud were completely false but I was victimized by Mr Shahzad Akbar to please Sophia Mirza and Pakistani taxpayers’ money was used against me and every attempt was made by them to blackmail and extort money from me. I am thankful that the court has cancelled FIRs against me and ended the façade.”