Islamabad – Mudasser Chudhary:
An accountability court on Monday indicted former president Asif Ali
Zardari in the Thatta Water Supply and Park Lane references.
The PPP leader and others nominated in the references presented themselves before the court on Monday in a hearing presided over by Justice Azam Khan.
During the hearing, the former president was presented with the charge sheet of the Thatta Water Supply and Park Lane references while the other suspects were provided a copy of the indictments.
The court framed charges against Zardari in the two references. A total number of 19 persons were indicted in the Park Lane reference while 15 were indicted in the Thatta Water Supply reference.
Zardari pleaded not guilty to the charges as the court directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to present witnesses in the Park Lane reference by October 20 and in the Thatta Water Supply reference by October 21.
The court had indicted Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur on September 28 in the mega money laundering reference.
Speaking outside the accountability court with reporters, Zardari was asked to comment on Khawaja Asif’s remarks about him.
“Khawaja Asif must have given the statement on somebody’s instructions,” he said. “The intent was to divide the opposition.”
Talking about the accountability cases filed against him, Zardari said that he had previously suffered under the same circumstances when cases were filed against him. “When we are in opposition, such cases are filed against us,” he said. “We have been going through these cases [in the past as well].”
Thatta water supply reference and fake accounts case
The Thatta Water Supply is a supplementary reference, part of the fake bank accounts and mega money-laundering scam references filed by NAB against Zardari.
In October 2015, the anti-corruption wing of the Federal Investigation Agency in Karachi received a tip-off of suspicious intra-bank transactions from the Summit Bank, Sindh Bank and the United Bank Limited.
The profiles of the account holders did not match their earnings/income. FIA authorities suspected that these accounts were being run by the Zardari Group and Omni Group, amongst others.
The case dragged on until June 2018, when the Supreme Court took suo moto notice of the fake accounts and directed a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe the matter.
The investigation team concluded that 32 fake bank accounts were being operated by 11 fake entities to launder money from “kickbacks, land grabbing and large scale misappropriation of public funds.”
Park Lane reference
A report in The News showed that a Karachi-based private company, Park Lane Estate Pvt Ltd, had purchased almost 2,500 kanals of land near Sangjani from Faisal Sakhi Butt, who himself purchased the land from a Pakistani American living in Houston, Texas in the USA, named Muhammad Nasir Khan, for merely Rs62 million.
Nasir Khan was the original purchaser of this land in 1994 and was alleged by NAB in 1997 to be Zardari’s frontman in the Ehtesab Bureau reference filed against him in 1997.
However, all the legal requirements were met and followed in the purchase and transfer of this land from one man to another and then to Park Lane Estate Pvt Ltd, which was a Karachi-based company.
According to the Form-A Annual Return of the company, its share capital, as reflected in the SECP record then, showed it had 120,000 shares of which Zardari and Bilawal own 30,000 shares each.
Zardari was shown as a director and his son was a member with four others who appear as members and debenture holders.
In 1997 the Ehtesab Bureau of Mian Saifur Rehman initiated a case against Zardari while the FIA arrested some persons related to the same case. Media reports in 1997 had then stated that Zardari had forcibly acquired the 2,500 kanals of land uprooting 300 families to set up a polo ground and a riding pavilion in Sangjani, 25 minutes from Islamabad.
Saifur Rehman had told a news conference on June 10, 1997, that the then chairman of the CDA, now late Shafi Sehwani, a PPP-appointee, was also involved in the land scam. Some local residents including Sardar Ishaque, Raja Mehboob Elahi and Haji Bashir had appeared before reporters and claimed that they had been forced to sell their land at a throwaway price in 1994 and Zardari wanted to build a polo ground in Sangjani.
It was then alleged that a US resident Nasir Khan had been used as frontman by Zardari. According to a 1997 news report, Khan was instrumental in making deals with the owners, whose lands were forcibly acquired by the revenue administration of Islamabad not for any official projects but for Khan’s private ownership, who was allegedly acting at Zardari’s behest.