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Tuesday Jul 10 2018

Is it game-over for Zardari?

Former president Asif Zardari and sister Faryal Talpur. Photo: File 

Is it all over for Asif Ali Zardari, too? Well, one has to wait and see the final outcome of the high-profile inquiry into the Rs35 billion transactions from 29 fake bank accounts through 'money laundering'.

The names of Zardari Pvt Ltd and over a dozen other companies surfaced in the case, after which the former president and his sister were summoned by the FIA on July 11 as well as the Supreme Court on July 12. 

The PPP supremo and his sister, among other suspects including three bank chiefs, have also been barred from leaving the country by the three-member Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar. 

Moreover, the FIA has constituted a seven-member JIT to probe the matter. 

Some major developments are expected before the next hearing as by then the FIA would have checked the record of all 29 bank accounts under question.

It is too early to predict where this case will lead but there are already signs that some big names could be arrested once the probe into all 29 'benami accounts’ is completed.

The troubling point for Zardari is not only that one transaction had been made to Zardari Pvt Ltd and names of the former president and his sister, Faryal Talpur, are mentioned but even some of the other people and companies named in the probe like Anwar Majeed’s (who has already left the country) and banker Hussain Lawai, who is in custody, are allegedly connected to the family.

Zardari in the past had managed to get his name cleared in both criminal and graft cases against him such as the Swiss accounts case, Surrey Palace case, Bokhari kidnapping case, Sajjad Hussain's murder case and Mir Murtaza Bhutto case, among others.

Now, will Zardari, who is also a candidate of the National Assembly while his sister, Faryal, is contesting from Larkana on a provincial assembly seat and is a strong contender for Sindh's top slot, be able to get a clean chit?

His close aides are confident that he would be bailed out.

If the case and investigation proceed in the manner of the Panama JIT then he may face more or less the same fate as Nawaz Sharif but we all know he is a cool customer and much more shrewd and smart than the Sharifs when it comes to dealing with such investigations and cases.

"White-collar crime is not easy to prove and requires a different kind of investigation but after the Supreme Court’s directives to unearth all 29 fake accounts in the three private banks, we will be able to establish a connection,” a senior FIA official handling the probe informed.

The FIA has already recorded statements of some people connected in the transactions from fake accounts and also knows where the money had gone, he added.

These accounts were allegedly used for transaction of funds worth millions and billions received through 'kickbacks'.

Another senior FIA official connected to the probe disclosed that names of peasants or personal servants had been used. "When inquired, a few of them said they had never even seen such amounts in their life," he added.

These sources said that initially they found difficulty in obtaining records of these accounts and by the time they got a hold of it, the money had been withdrawn.

From some of these accounts, Rs400 to Rs500 million was withdrawn in one go. Perhaps, they might have got a tip about the probe and withdrew the money.

Dozens of names of companies and individuals allegedly involved as a direct party or as beneficiaries have already appeared in the media while some other big names will surface soon.

The investigation has certainly caused the top PPP leadership to panic, which last week demanded the caretaker government to remove Bashir Memon as DG FIA and also some other officers.

The demand came after FIA sped the investigation into the 'money laundering' case. If the JIT now comes up with something substantial, there is a possibility we hear another 'breaking news' before July 25.

The transactions worth billions of rupees and fake accounts could also help in breaking the nexus between 'crime and politics'.

NAB on the one hand and FIA on the other first got active in Sindh after the 2013 elections and during the Karachi operation, when some close aides of Zardari like Manzoor Kaka, Nisar Morai, Dr Asim Hussain and Sharjeel Memon got arrested.

While Kaka managed to escape the others are facing trials whose progress is slow.

If the scope of the ‘money laundering’ investigation is expanded and the JIT has the powers it need, it could also unearth the projects from which 'kickbacks' were allegedly taken and by whom.

While in the last two years all the attention was on the Panama case and its follow up, the manner in which three close associates of Zardari, were picked up recently from Islamabad and Sindh followed by some other arrests, the raid on Omni group and finally the arrest of Hussain Lawai, indications are that Zardari is next after Nawaz Sharif.

All this could be the follow up of the second aspect of the Karachi operation, defined in an apex committee meeting in the presence of Zardari and Nawaz by the operational authorities — that after eliminating terrorism, they will go after terror financing and money laundering to break the syndicate of 'crime and politics'.

One has to wait and see when the curtains will fall.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

Note: The views expressed in the article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group.


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