Pakistan on Thursday said it will place former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur on the Exit Control List (ECL) to prevent them from flying abroad after they were named in a Supreme Court-appointed joint investigative team probing fake bank accounts.
The JIT, constituted by the apex court on September 5, probe focused on “32 fake accounts” which were allegedly used to give massive financial benefits to Zardari, Talpur and several others.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the Cabinet has decided to place on the ECL all 172 suspects, including Zardari and his sister, involved in cases of money laundering and use of fake bank accounts, Dawn reported.
Those persons on the list are prohibited from leaving Pakistan.
“I was watching Asif Ali Zardari say that he does not take the JIT seriously,” recalled the minister. “Hopefully, he will take it seriously after today. In the upcoming days he will know the seriousness of this inquiry.”
“This is not Purana (old) Pakistan where the two big (players) make a deal. Now, each and every penny will be accounted for,” he said, referring to Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairperson Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, who is in jail following his sentencing in a graft case.
Zardari’s PPP and Sharif’s PML-N have been repeatedly in power when the powerful military was not ruling the country. Chaudhry said that the decision was taken because “this money belongs to the people of Pakistan.”
His announcement coincided with the 11th death anniversary of Zardari’s wife and two-time former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in a suicide attack during an election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.
Shortly after Chaudhry’s announcement, Zardari vowed to fight his political opponents “in court and everywhere else”.
“Today, the thugs of the ladla have challenged us. We are not afraid of their tactics.
“As far as Bilawal [Bhutto] is concerned, he is the son of BB (Benazir Bhutto) and I: how can you scare him?” he asked.
Zardari, who mentioned his slain wife in a speech meant to mark her death anniversary in Garhi Khuda Bukhsh, criticised the Imran Khan government and claimed that they pale in comparison to the performance of the PPP government.
“They did nothing in their 100 days,” he said. “They will be unable to run the country despite foreign support by friendly countries.”
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, after paying homage to his late mother, echoed his father’s words as he too promised to “fight the lies and controversies” against his family.
“The country’s rein has been handed to an inexperienced PM today,” Bilawal said. “He has drowned the public in a sea of inflation within his first 100 days. He has brought the economy to a point from where there is no return,” he said, accusing “the puppet” prime minister of “wanting to turn the country into one unit and establish a one-party unit.”
Bilawal labelled the JIT’s report as “lies and sham”, and claimed that it would not hold in the court where it “would be thrown in the trash can”.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission accepted for initial hearing a petition seeking the disqualification of Zardari. The hearing is expected to be held in the next week.
Zardari was elected member of the National Assembly in the 2018 elections.
According to the JIT report submitted to the apex court, the Omni Group (allegedly owned by Zardari and his close aides) acquired four state-run entities — Thatta Cement Factory, Thatta Sugar Mills, Naudero Sugar Mills and Dadu Sugar Mills — in Sindh at throwaway prices.
The report, a copy of which is with PTI, said the payments were made from fake bank accounts in some cases. For example, the Thatta Cement was purchased for Rs 135 million and the amount was paid through fake bank accounts.
The Naudero Sugar Mills was purchased by the Omni group in 2001 for Rs 68 million, whereas the market value of the entity at that time was Rs 142.89 million, it said.
Similarly, the Thatta Sugar Mills was sold to the Omni Group for Rs 127.5 million in 2013, while its market value at that time was Rs 716.11 million. The Dadu Sugar Mills was acquired by the same group in 2008 at Rs 90 million against its original price of Rs 626.70 million.
The Omni group not only bought the entities at cheaper prices but also embezzled Rs 7.19 billion subsidies given by the Sindh government to the four entities, according to the JIT report submitted to the Supreme Court on Monday.
The probe team said the evidence shows that Zardari and Talpur used the Omni Group as “front” and “influenced the financial institutions and regulators and misused” the Sindh government authority on a very wide scale to amass a great fortune “consigning the masses in Sindh to utter neglect and despair”.
The Omni group mostly paid the expenses of Zardari and his family and the JIT found phenomenal growth in the business of the Omni group after 2008 when Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party formed the government in Sindh.
The JIT comprise officials from the Federal Investigation Agency, the National Accountability Bureau, the Federal Board of Revenue, the State Bank of Pakistan, the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
The probe team summoned 885 persons and examined in detail 767 individuals and witnesses. It explored 11,500 bank accounts of 924 individuals and companies and compiled the report.
Zardari’s party has strongly rejected the report.