Asif Zardari indicted in Park Lane Reference

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ISLAMABAD, Aug 10: An accountability court has indicted former president and Chairman of PPPP Asif Ali Zardari in the Park Lane reference on Monday through video link.

NAB has accused Zardari of abusing his powers as president and causing a loss of over Rs 4 billion to the National Bank of Pakistan . The reference has also accused Omni group’s Anwar Majeed and others of money laundering in the case.

Zardari appeared before the court through video link from Bilawal House, Karachi. He pleaded not guilty and the trial will now continue. During the hearing, Zardari maintained that his lawyers are at the Supreme Court and he cannot be indicted in the absence of his lawyers.

The accountability court judge said that Zardari’s lawyer could have sent his assistant lawyer to attend today’s hearing. “These are just two simple sentences in English, you can listen to them and answer,” said the judge.However, the court dismissed this and remarked that Zardari would be indicted regardless, and his lawyers would simply be marked absent if they did not appear before the court.

Other accused in the case, namely, Omni Group chief Anwar Majeed, Sher Ali, Farooq Abdullah, Saleem Faisal and Muhammad Hanif, were also indicted during the hearing.

All of the accused, including the former president and Anwar Majeed, maintained innocence and pleaded not guilty before the court.The reference says loans were disbursed to an unnamed Park Lane company Parthenon and that it was done on the instructions of the former president.

According to the indictment, Zardari influenced the relevant authorities during his tenure as president to release loans to front companies. He was accused of being a director of the Park Lane company and planning to commit fraud.

The former president allegedly got his front company, Parthenon Private Limited, a loan of Rs1.5 billion with ill intention, and the money was then transferred for his personal use through fake accounts.

The Park Lane case is being investigated under different sections of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, and the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010, over Zardari’s alleged involvement in extending loan and its misappropriation by Parthenon Private Limited.

The National Accountability Bureau has accused the former president of causing the national exchequer a loss of Rs3.77 billion through fake bank accounts.

In the 13-page long NAB reference against Zardari and other accused, the anti-graft watchdog alleges that the accused created benaami properties through Park Lane Company using Parthenon Private Limited as the front company .

Using the money acquired through loans, eight floors were constructed at the IBC Centre. Initially, a loan of Rs1.5 billion was taken that gradually increased to Rs4 billion. Former executive director of the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Javed, and two former presidents of the National Bank of Pakistan, are listed as witnesses against Zardari in this reference.

Zardari’s counsel, Farooq H Naek, earlier prayed before the court that the Park Lane reference doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of NAB as it is a case of ‘financial law’.

Zardari requested the judge to write in his order that the charges were framed against him whilst his lawyer was not present in court.

“Charges are always framed against the suspect. If his or her lawyer does not present himself before the court, we cannot force [the lawyer] to do so,” replied the judge. The judge then proceeded to read out the charges against Zardari. The former president pleaded not guilty.

According to the Park Lane reference against Zardari 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 the frontman of Zardari 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 Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari 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 Mr Zardari while the FIA had arrested some persons in the case. Media reports in 1997 had then stated that Zardari had forcibly acquired this 2,500 kanals of land uprooting 300 families to set up a polo ground and a riding pavilion in Sangjani, 25 minutes from Islamabad.

Former Ehtisab Bureau chairman 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 had 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, Nasir 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 private ownership of Nasir Khan, who was acting at Zardari’s behest.

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