ISLAMABAD  -   The Islamabad High Court Wednesday extended interim pre-arrest bail to former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur till today in a matter pertaining to laundering of billions of rupees through fake bank accounts.

A division bench of the IHC comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani conducted hearing of the petitions moved by the leaders of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and extended their bails.

Zardari’s counsel Farooq H Naek completed his arguments while the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) additional prosecutor would continue his arguments on the next hearing.

During the hearing, Justice Kayani asked that whether NAB had issued arrest warrants of Zardari and the NAB prosecutor replied in affirmation.

Naek argued that there was no reality in the accusations against his client as the allegation of being a beneficiary in the case was against a company namely Zardari Group and not against his client.

He contended that Zardari is not the director of the company, but only a shareholder adding that until now copies of the reference against his client were not provided to them.

On the other hand, NAB Additional Prosecutor Jahanzeb Bharwana read the judgment of the Supreme Court, in which the court had ordered the bureau to investigate money laundering through fake bank accounts.

He added the SC had directed to probe the matter and file reference in the case, and subsequently thousands of suspicious transactions were found.

He informed the court that in the account of the Zardari Group, Rs15 million were transferred from Umair Associates. At this, Justice Kayani asked that who had operated the account. Bharwana replied that Faryal Talpur used to operate this account.

The judge also asked that why an amount of Rs15 million was transferred into Talpur’s bank account. Naek said that the co-accused comes from a family of sugarcane cultivators and that the sugarcane was provided to the sugar mills of the Omni Group. Naek also apprised the court that those accounts were in fact business accounts and were not fake.

The bench also expressed its displeasure as it was told that the NAB investigation officer had not submitted the required record in the case.

Then, Justice Kayani asked what are you doing here without the required record and added that the court was hearing argument for an hour and a half, and still no record was produced before the court. To this, the officer said that the record has a large volume.

He added that Zardari and Talpur were involved in suspicious transactions, and the Zardari Group had an important role in it.

After hearing the arguments from both sides, the court extended their bail for one day and directed the investigation officer to present record of the case today (Thursday).

The PPP leaders moved the court through their counsel Farooq H Naek and cited the chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and investigative officer as respondents.

A total of nine applications were filed by the PPP leaders – seven by Zardari and two by Talpur. Five out of the seven petitions filed by Zardari sought extension in pre-arrest bails while the other two were on new call-up notices. Both of Talpur’s applications sought extension in pre-arrest bail.

In this matter, the anti-corruption watchdog had already submitted its reply opposing bail to the former president. In its reply to the high court, NAB stated the reasons for its opposition to bail to Zardari saying that NAB was taking action against Zardari within legal boundaries and investigation was underway against the former president in accordance with NAB ordinance.

It added, “All the proceedings were taken in accordance with law and there is absolutely no violation of fundamental rights of petitioner, he had been given complete opportunity vide call up notice to clarify allegations levelled against him.”

“There is no statutory provision provided in the law whereby NAB is bound to inform or notice before arrest hence this petition is liable to be dismissed,” contended the bureau.

Therefore, the bureau prayed to the court that petition of Zardari seeking bail may be dismissed in the interest of justice.

In their petitions, they prayed to the court to restrain the bureau from arresting them.

In the identical petitions, the former president stated that NAB had served a call-up notice on him to appear on March 20 before a combined investigation team to record his statement with respect to investigation into fake bank accounts.

He added that in order to safeguard himself from mala fide and illegal arrest at the hands of NAB and law enforcing agencies of the country and to enable him to surrender before the competent court of law, he had filed a constitutional petition before the Sindh High Court for protective bail. The SHC on March 19 approved protective bail for him for 10 ten days, he said.

Zardari said that he also appeared before the NAB team which after interrogating him for one hour handed him a questionnaire with the direction to submit reply to the same within ten days.

“At the moment petitioner is not aware that how many cases are registered against him and how many Call Up notices will be issued to him and /or references may be filed against him by the respondents. Till date three Call Up Notices have been issued by the respondents to the petitioner,” said the petition.

“There is every possibility that if petitioner appears before NAB authorities in connection with a Call Up Notice, he may be entangled and arrested in some other case,” the petitioner added.

The petitioner continued that he apprehend his arrest at the hands of the respondents on the basis of Call Up Notices.

Therefore, Zardari requested the court to grant him bail before arrest and in the meanwhile, interim bail before arrest may be granted to the petitioner. He also prayed to the court to direct respondent NAB authorities to submit list of all cases against the petitioner.