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Saturday Feb 09 2019

Money laundering case: Key suspect taken into custody from Islamabad airport

On October 23, Masood, the chief financial officer of the Omni Group, was arrested by the Interpol when he arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from London. Masood is believed to be the mastermind behind the fake bank accounts that were used to launder over Rs100 billion out of Pakistan. Photo: File

ISLAMABAD: The mastermind of the mega money laundering and fake accounts case, Aslam Masood, was taken into custody by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)  as he landed at Islamabad International Airport on Friday night.

Masood, the chief financial officer of the Omni Group, was arrested by Interpol when he arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from London on October 23. Masood is believed to be the mastermind behind the fake bank accounts that were used to launder over Rs100 billion out of Pakistan.

According to sources, a few more key suspects who are at the centre of the fake accounts scam may land in Pakistan soon, a move which investigators believe could change the course of gathering “conclusive evidence” against the prime accused, the owners of Omni group, Bahria Town and Zardari Group Pvt Ltd in particular.

“Masood landed in Pakistan and will be produced before the court today (Saturday),” a senior FIA official told Geo News. The official further said Masood was hospitalised last night.

The CFO of Omni Group will record his statement before the joint investigation team headed by Ehsan Sadiq and the combined investigation team of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) headed by Irfan Mangi next week. Masood told the FIA officials that he will not appear before the magistrate until he has recorded his statement before the JIT and NAB.

Masood in his latest statement disclosed that he was operating on behalf of Majeed family which is now the focus of the JIT probe for allegedly running a suspicious business of over Rs220 billion with dozens of business groups. “I looked after all the administrative/financial aspects [of the Omni Group]. It will not be wrong to say that from the peon to the director, I had all the responsibilities,” Masood told investigators when asked about his responsibilities with the group.

Responding to a question regarding the purpose of opening and operating fake accounts, Masood said, “Equity rotation, sugar/alcohol sale money rotation, plots payments rotation, extortion money, etc.” He further told the investigators that he started working directly under Khawaja Anwar Majeed in 1992. Moreover, he said he was working as Director Orient Automotive, CEO Lar Sugar Mill, Director and was a 50 per cent shareholder at Rubicon Developers and Rising Star (Thatta Sugar Mills shares).

Masood also admitted that Zain Malik, the son-in-law of Malik Riaz Hussain, became acquainted with him as the latter would give a list of company names for cheques to be issued. He also admitted that Nadeem Iqbal was an administrative manager, however, he was expelled by CEO Khawaja Salman Younis in 2014/15.

He further said Zeeshan Warsi is now in charge of Sugar Division/Finance. About the formation of the company M/s Rising Star, he told the JIT that it was formed on directives of Younis and AG Majeed.

About the other companies, Masood revealed that Diamond Builders requested Summit Bank for the release of various payments in the name of A-One International, Lucky International, Iqbal Metals, Gateway Iron Steel, Dream Trading and Ocean Enterprises. He added Regent Services Pvt Ltd has corresponded and instructed Summit Bank regarding the release of payments for construction of G-2 building.

When asked if he knows Syed Faisal Hussain Shah and Shabnum Bhutto, Masood in his statement said, “G-2 Plot was registered in the name of Shabnam Bhutto/Sanam Bhutto. Later, it was transferred in the name of Syed Faisal Hussain Shah and then transferred on the name of Mustafa Majeed and subsequently to Summit Bank.”

In response to another question, Masood said there is a company in the name of Muhammad Ashraf who works for Younis Qidwai. Ashraf signed the forms and gave them to Qidwai, he said. When the JIT asked why he had provided two cheques for Rs9,000,000 each for the joint accounts of Zain Malik/Mushtaq Ahmed to Muhammad Ashraf to encash, Masood said, “Muhammad Arif (the chief accountant of Omni Group) used to be responsible for providing cheques, however, he could not give it to Ashraf as he [Ashraf] did not work in our company.”

About Mohsin Sheikhani, Masood revealed that he never met him but Qidwai knew him well. When asked about Muhammad Arif Khan and Muhammad Umair, he said, “Umair is a low-level employee who works with Qidwai. A company has been registered in his name. He is presently in Dubai and deals in payment of cheques/banks.”

Moreover, he said Umair has serious domestic issues and has attempted suicide four time. When the JIT asked who opened and operated the fake account in the name of Muhammad Umair/Umair Associates at Summit Bank and Sindh Bank, the Omni Group CFO revealed that Arif opened the account with the permission of Qidwai. “I was the custodian of the cheque books of all the bank accounts of Umair Associates. Bilal Sheikh, Jameel Memon and Haneef Memon were front-persons in this whole process,” he said.

When the JIT asked who issued the cheques of the said fake bank accounts, Masood responded, “AG Majeed used to ask me and I in turn used to ask Arif for the cheques of the said fake bank accounts. Initially, these used to be signed by the individuals on whose names these were opened, however as it became difficult, Arif started signing them Fake accounts were not opened on my instructions but on the orders of AG Majeed, however, I used to supervise them,” he added. 

Pakistani authorities had earlier successfully concluded negotiations with the International Police (Interpol) and local authorities to repatriate Masood in Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, Arif Khan the chief accountant of KAM Crown International may arrive in Islamabad soon, a source said. The FIA had approached Interpol for repatriation of key absconding accused in the fake accounts case. “Pakistan received positive feedback from the people responsible in UAE to get a statement recorded from Nasser Abdullah Lootah, chairman of Summit Bank," the source said.

The source further said a superior court has also been approached for pre-arrest bail of two absconding suspects. “Arrest warrants for as many as five accused who are absconding abroad currently were issued by a special court,” he said.

On FIA's request, the Interpol Central Office is looking for Younas Kudwai, who according to the JIT, owns M/s Rubicon and is an aide of former president Asif Ali Zardari and had a close nexus with the “Zardari System”. “M/s Rubicon is a shady company controlled by Asif Ali Zardari and was directly involved in misappropriation and diverting loans into Summit Bank as (laundered) equity. Its directors at that time of incorporation (02-09-2009) were Iqbal Noori, (who has disclosed that he is a dummy of Younas Kudwai) and Iqbal Ghafoor, who was a representative of Abdul Ghani Majid. Younas Kudwai — 12.5 per cent (present front man of Asif Ali Zardari, CEO of M/s Park Lane authorised to operate the company accounts by the directors since 22-08-2008),” the JIT report stated.

The report further said, Muhammad Umair (an employee at KAM Crown LLC, Dubai who had business of Rs6.3 billion through fake accounts is also absconding. He was operating fake account of M/s Umair Associates with Arif Khan, the chief accountant of Omni Group and was deputed for the operation of these "fake accounts".

Nasser Abdullah Lootah is accused of channelising billions of rupees through a special finance facility diverted into fake accounts by M/s Larr (Rs400 million), M/s Chamber (Rs400 million) and M/s New Thatta (Rs242 million). The money was then laundered through his Lootah account and ultimately ‘integrated’ (injected) as (laundered) equity into Summit Bank, the report added.