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Wednesday, February 1, 2023
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We have seen your faces – Saad Rasool

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Saad Rasool |

The JIT Report submitted before the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan – concerning Asif Zardari and the Omni Group – is perhaps the most incriminating saga of money laundering against any politician (across the world) in recent memory. Written (almost) as a fast-paced novel, the JIT Report chronicles the dizzying financial rise of Asif Zardari and his close associates, through a series of fake accounts and shell companies, all designed to launder money in and out of Pakistan.

By way of background, as recounted in the JIT Report itself, during the Nawaz Sharif years of government, an “Enquiry No. 70/2015 was initiated on 06.10.2015 by Anti-Corruption Circle of FIA, Karachi on a source report alleging massive suspicious inter and intrabank transaction in… 04 ‘Fake Accounts’ of 2 branches of Summit Bank, which apparently did not match with the profile of the account holders”.

The likes of Qamar Zaman Qaira – who are generally regarded as clean(er) politicians – have been front and center in mounting this defense. They have tried to paint this as a political issue, which it is not.

During the pendency of the said inquiry, a ‘Suspicious Transactions Report (STR) was received by the FIA, on 07.12.2017, which contained 29 suspicious accounts, including 16 accounts at Summit Bank, 8 accounts at Sindh Bank and 5 accounts at UBL. As narrated, “in total, Rs. 35 Billion were transacted in these accounts and used for money laundering.”

Consequently, another enquiry, dated 26.01.2018, was registered by the FIA; a probe under this inquiry revealed that these accounts transacted huge financial amounts with “Omni Group, Bahria Town, Zardari Group, Parthenon Pvt. Ltd., Zain Malik (son-in-law of Malik Riaz Hussain) Arif Habib and a group of contractors/builders” who worked on various projects in Sindh.

During the pendency of these investigations, on 29.06.2018, the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan took cognizance of the matter (in a Human Rights application concerning “slackness in the progress of pending inquiries relating to fake bank accounts”).

Read more: Insecure Asif Zardari grills PTI and establishment

Subsequently, on 05.09.2018, the honourable Supreme Court constituted its own JIT in the issue, “for the purpose of conducting a thorough, in-depth and incisive investigation and probe into the matter of fake bank accounts”, in order “to get to the truth, uncover the persons involved and collect all material evidence for the purpose of ensuring that in case an offense is made out, the persons involved therein are properly prosecuted.”

Within the contours of these broad TORs, “the JIT summoned 885 persons, and examined in detail 767 individuals/witnesses” along with “11,500 bank accounts of 924 individuals and companies”. Findings of the JIT Report reveal that the first ‘fake account’ was opened in January 2010, and over the next few years “Omni Group created eleven ‘Fake Entities’ which had no assets or business of their own but were created to act as vehicles to launder proceeds of crime.”

The JIT Report describes, in detail, the sophisticated methodology adopted by Asif Zardari and the Omni Group, for carrying money laundering through these accounts.

Three of these entities were created in the name of Omni Group employees (including an “Office Boy”), whereas others were created in the name of random individuals, including: a ‘House Wife’, a ‘computer technician’, a ‘Falooda wala’, a ‘Rikshaw wala’, a ‘Desi Quilt Seller’, and one in the name of a sanitary worker who had died in 2014.

Importantly, each of these fake (company) accounts was being operated under the authority of “Aslam Masood, Chief Financial Officer of Omni Group (Absconder) and M. Arif Khan, Accountant Omni Group”, with a collective transaction volume of Rs. 42.3 Billion. Just as importantly, per the testimony of the relevant branch manager, at least two of these accounts were opened, without requisite verification, on the direct instructions of President Summit Bank, and contained specific instructions “referred by Hussain Lawai”.

Per the JIT report, payments from these accounts (along with others, belonging to Omni Group) were used for the construction of “Z House Nawabshah”. Furthermore, during investigation of accounts concerning Khoski Sugar Mill, it was discovered that billions of Rupees of payments, from accounts of Omni Group, were made to Mrs. Feryal Talpur and “Barai Sahab”, where were further divided “into subheads ZH (Zardari House), BH (Bilawal House) and Abu Bakr Farms etc.”

Read more: Money Laundering, Suo Motus and Zardari

The JIT Report describes, in detail, the sophisticated methodology adopted by Asif Zardari and the Omni Group, for carrying money laundering through these accounts. Specifically, the JIT Report, under a section titled “Modus Operendi – Three Classical Stages of Money Laundering”, describes how payment in these fake accounts were ‘placed’ after a process of “smurfing” (where the laundered money is split into smaller amounts, before being deposited).

Thereafter, the transactions went through a meticulous process of “layering”, a stage where the money is “split, withdrawn, redeposited, and merged back in the financial system”. It was this process of “layering” that resulted in 13,809 transactions of Fake Accounts, amounting to a total of Rs. 14.92 Billion. And finally, through a process of “integration”, the laundered money was mixed with “ostensibly legitimate (but fake) real estate gains and (fake) profits from (artificial) ventures”, so as to present it as legitimate (white) money.

However, the JIT claims that it has been able to decode this complex web of layering within fake accounts, so as to “establish end-to-end money trail.”

The likes of Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, along with their coterie, would do well to understand this fact. It is time for them to crawl out from behind Qatari Letters and Anver Majid’s business empire, to face the music for what it is.

Interestingly, even as this house of cards was crumbling around Asif Zardari and Omni Group, the members of Anver Majid’s family could not get their head around the fact that they were not above the law of this country. Specifically, the JIT report recounts an interesting anecdote from the investigation of one Mrs. Nazli Majid, who “extended a couched threat to the members of the JIT by saying ‘Alright, I have seen your faces.’”

In another society, at another time, political parties and leaders should be embarrassed of the sort of revelations that have been made in the JIT Report. But not the PPP. Not Asif Zardari. And certainly not his cohorts. Over the past few days, scores of PPP leaders have (embarrassingly) defended Asif Zardari’s personal wealth (and corruption), under the misnomer of ‘democracy’.

Read more: Dawn of Accountability: Zardari’s close aide being investigated by FIA

The likes of Qamar Zaman Qaira – who are generally regarded as clean(er) politicians – have been front and center in mounting this defense. They have tried to paint this as a political issue, which it is not. They have tried to paint it as a biased report that does not include Zardari’s version – ignoring the fact that Asif Zardari’s signed statement is part of the JIT record. They have tried to spin a narrative of political persecution, designed to portray Zardari as the Mandela of Pakistan.

But when the cameras turn off, and the lights go out, they snicker at Zardari and rejoice at the possibility that (as a result of the Supreme Court proceedings) PPP may finally shed its tainted yolk of Asif Zardari, in order to reclaim its ethos of the past.

In all likelihood, the coming year will be decisive for Asif Zardari and his politics in Sindh. As Pakistan’s State institutions rise from their (criminal) slumber of the past decade, we all await a resolution of Sindh’s pending cases of China-cutting, land-grabbing, target killing and the issues arising from Uzair Baloch’s JIT.

Read more: I paved way for a ‘Dentist’ President: Zardari’s comments spark uproar

Gone are the days that you could scare law enforcement personnel by telling them that you “have seen their face”. The likes of Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, along with their coterie, would do well to understand this fact. It is time for them to crawl out from behind Qatari Letters and Anver Majid’s business empire, to face the music for what it is. It is time for them to recognize that we have their faces. And that we will not forget.

Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at saad@post.harvard.edu, or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. The article originally appeared at The Nation and has been republished with author’s permission. The Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.