A money-laundering scandal with potential to upset political scene

Umar Cheema

ISLAMABAD: The details were difficult to digest for Tariq Sultan. He is a small-time employee of a politically connected businessman of Karachi with monthly salary around Rs25,000. But he came to know from FIA investigators that he is owner of a company, A-One International, which has five accounts in three banks used for suspicious transactions. Guess how much? Rs8 billion.

“I have not seen an Arab national in my life, let alone eight Arab (billion) rupees,” he told FIA which is investigating a potential money-laundering scandal of Rs35 billion implicating a top political leader along with his businessman and banker friends. As many as 29 accounts located at branches in Karachi of three banks were used for the transactions.

As the money trail is available, though transaction has been layered through shuffling of huge sums from one suspicious account to another, the FIA has identified big guns paying and receiving funds. The payments have largely been credited through original accounts but routed via fake accounts into the accounts of intended beneficiaries.

Sindh government’s contractors, a property tycoon, sugar mills owner, a protocol officer of a political house, a purchaser of 58 acres of land and others are included among the senders.

The seller of the land was a district president Malir of a political party who kept the purchaser in the dark about the real owner of the land of Steel Mills of Pakistan, which has now moved Sindh High Court to claim ownership. So far identified key beneficiaries of the funds: a top political leader; his two close confidantes (a business magnate and a foreigner who happens to be chairman of a Pakistani bank used for these transactions).

From the accounts created in the name of Tariq Sultan alone, Rs3.04 billion have been transferred to the chairman of the bank; Rs293.78 million to the business magnet (Tariq is his employee), Rs10.50 million to the political leader whereas Rs2.20 billion in six other suspicious accounts. A cash withdrawal of Rs490.26 million has also been made from the said accounts. A travel agent has also been paid Rs25 million.

In addition to Tariq Sultan, another account holder, Erum Aqeel, the alleged owner of Ibrahim Linkers, has also expressed ignorance about the company created in her name and subsequently the accounts opened used for more than one billion rupees transactions.

The inquiry started after Financial Monitoring Unit of the State Bank of Pakistan generated a Suspicious Transaction Report in January this year about ten bank accounts; included among them were four in Summit Bank which had also come under scrutiny in November 2015 by FIA but the investigation was halted within a month. Reasons remain unknown.

One each of these four accounts were created in the name of Tariq’s alleged business concern (A-One International), Adnan Javed (Lucky International), Iqbal Arain (Iqbal Metal) and Muhammad Umair (Umair Associates). Other than Tariq, none of them is traceable at the given addresses, according to FIA sources.

Remaining six accounts reported by the State Bank are Royale Enterprises, Alfa Zulu (Pvt) Ltd, Logistic Trading, Ibrahim Linkers, Agro Farms Thatta and Parthenon (Pvt) Ltd.

As the investigation started, the FIA identified another 19 accounts linked with these 10 suspicious accounts. All 29 accounts are being maintained on the names of alleged businesses of seven individuals.

As many as 16 accounts under scrutiny are at Summit Bank, eight at Sindh Bank and five at United Bank Limited. A recent effort to merge loss-making Summit Bank into Sindh Bank has been thwarted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan when a shareholder of the Summit Bank moved the court.

The FIA’s investigation has found that Arif Khan and Aslam Masood, two top executives of the business magnate at the heart of investigation, were operating these accounts as per statements of the bankers and sugar brokers who were instructed to credit payments there. Aslam has been described in the FIA’s inquiry as close friend of Hussain Lawai, former Summit Bank president, who has recently been barred from flying abroad. Meanwhile, the business magnate has already flown out.

Amanullah Memon of M/s Al-Asar Constructions & Builders, a fund creditor to these accounts interviewed by FIA, said he purchased a land measuring 58 acres in Bin Qasim Town from M/s Al-Aqsa Builders & Developers owned by Shaikh Adeel Akhtar (vice president of Malir chapter of a political party) through his company’s director Ehsan UIllah vide sale agreement dated 02.06.2014.

He transferred the amount into the account of Umair Associates. The land is now claimed by Steel Mills which has filed a suit in Sindh High Court.

Originally published in The News