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November 9, 2018

Why Zardari fears arrest?


November 9, 2018

It was in 2017 when three close associates who allegedly looked after some of the businesses of former president Asif Ali Zardari picked up by one of the premiers intelligence agencies interrogated them and later all three freed. It was cleared that something was ‘cooking up’ against him much before the general elections on July 25, 2018.

The probe never stopped even with the change of government. On the contrary it picked up the pace with clear instructions coming from the PTI government. So there are reasons to believe why he ‘fears’ arrest. Till this day no one knows what information the ‘agency’ concerned got from these people including one Mohammad Ali Sheikh but even in those days when I once asked the then interior minister Ch Nisar the real motive behind their detention he said, “I had asked the similar question from the senior official concerned as action against them was not taken on his instructions”.

However, in the last five years particularly during ‘Karachi operation’ no fresh case had been filed against Zardari nor he had been arrested in any case. So, why Zardari now ‘fears’ arrest in alleged money-laundering or fake accounts matters.

Zardari often blames former premier Nawaz Sharif for initiating most of the cases against him and was not fully convinced when the latter informed him through Maulana Fazlur Rehman that he had nothing to do with investigation and arrest of his friends in Karachi during ‘Karachi operation’.

The former president in the past had remained in prison for almost 11 years in phases in both corruption and criminal cases including murder but yet to be convicted. He is confident that like in previous cases, his new opponents would also be disappointed but the PTI leaders like Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry think otherwise.

Zardari as a reaction and in a bid to damage Nawaz Sharif played a decisive role in creating split in the PML-N in Balochistan during the Senate elections including election of the chairman and also in the prime minister’s election. He even surprised his own party leadership when he dumped the name of Raza Rabbani as Senate chairman despite all the parties were ready to get him elected unopposed. But the investigation against the former president never stopped and is now said to be in a decisive stage.

His name has not yet figured in any ‘fake account’ of money- laundering probe launched by the FIA and the Joint Investigation Team constituted by the Supreme Court. His sister Faryal Talpur’s name did appear in one of the fake accounts transaction but she too is confident that nothing substantial would be found out against her. Irrespective of what Zardari claims about, his popularity graph would go up in case he is arrested. The facts remains that he also knows that any serious charge of ‘money-laundering’ against him could not only cause colossal damage to him but also to the PPP and its chairman Bilawal Bhutto.

Ever since the FIA has opened the investigation into ‘fake accounts’, they were able to discover hundreds rather thousands of fake accounts worth billions of rupees but sources said the FIA or JIT were still far from implicating the PPP leader and an official said “we are not in a hurry nor will take decision in haste”.

Investigation had taken a decisive turn when the FIA arrested Anwar Majeed head of Omni Group, which the PPP’s opponents believe has lot to do with Asif Ali Zardari. The former president denied all such allegations and always considered AM his friend and had strongly reacted when in the previous PPP government Rangers raided one of its offices.

Zardari is not all that wrong when he said in the last few years his ‘friends’ are the main target, a clear reference to the arrest of Dr Asim Hussain, Sharjeel Inam Memon (during the PML-N government) besides Hussain Lawai and Anwar Majeed.

Sources further revealed that during the second phase of the ‘Karachi operation’, Rangers and the FIA targeted some of the officials allegedly linked to Zardari. These include people like Nisar Morai, head of Fishermen Society and for the first time Rangers started probed into money-laundering and terror financing beyond outlawed groups and the MQM. Some of the close associates of Zardari managed to flee the country including Manzoor Kaka and Muzzafar Tappi.

However, the FIA was confident that they would be able to find out something as a result of arrest of people like Lawai and AM. They had also arrested some of others while in search of some of the wanted people whose ‘red warrants’ had been issued.

One of them was Asad Masood, whom the FIA initially termed ‘mastermind’ in fake accounts probe. He is presently in a hospital in Saudi Arabia but had told the senior FIA officials that he had nothing to do with ‘fake accounts’ as he had never issued any cheque nor had signed any cheque.

However, he said he had been associated with Omni Group since it was established in 1980 and quit in 2015. He said Omni Group had worked as an agricultural, industrial and serviced-oriented entity with emphasis on sugar, rice etc.

But AM’s critics termed him the most powerful man after Zardari and had lot of influence on successive PPP-led Sindh governments. In the post 9/11, ‘money-laundering’ and ‘terror financing’ are considered as most serious offences if proven against anyone.

Zardari is confident that nothing substantial would come up against him. On Tuesday, he tried to undermine the ongoing probe by the FIA and Supreme Court’s JTI. “They are trying to find out something against me in order to arrest me but have failed,” he said, adding that he will be more popular if arrested.

The investigation into Zardari’s alleged ‘fortune’ and business never stopped with the change of government. Rather it has now picked up the pace with clear instructions from Prime Minister Imran Khan of ‘zero tolerance’ as far as inquiries related to money-laundering is concerned and that in itself was one of the reasons why he kept high-profile interior ministry to himself. Sources said he is particularly monitoring ‘money- laundering’ investigations against three key political figures Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari and Altaf Hussain, and has issued directives to the concerned persons to pick up the pace.

Without naming anyone in his key address in Saudi Arabia and China, the premier had blamed previous system for not doing much against corruption and money-laundering.

So the authorities concerned or agencies have ‘NOC’ from the top that if they have enough evidence against the former president or former PM, they could go ahead with any action.

This is something matter of concern for both the PML-N and the PPP leadership and yet they are still keeping some distance as indicated from Zardari’s statement in which he had accused Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan of gaining power through deals.

Zardari strongly feels that nothing will come out of fake accounts or money-laundering investigation and that is one of the reasons he said, “I am ready to go to jail again but they have not been able to find any evidence”.

For Prime Minister Imran Khan’s action against his key political opponents Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and Altaf Hussain in money-laundering and corruption would be like a ‘dream come true’ as far as his and the PTI politics is concerned. He already has partial success in Sharifs case while Altaf Hussain is practically out of Pakistani politics but his dream of knocking out Zardari has not turn into reality yet. So there are reasons to believe why AZ fears arrest.

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

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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