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LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has arrested two alleged frontmen of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) senior leader and former federal minister Moonis Elahi in a multibillion sugar scam inquiry.

Sources said the alleged frontmen, identified as Nawaz Bhatti and Mazhar Iqbal, were taken into custody by the agency after it detected Rs 24 billion in their bank accounts which was disproportionate to their income.

According to the FIR registered on Tuesday, the FIA had booked Moonis under Sections 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of a common intention), 109 (punishment for abetment), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) and 471 (using a genuine forged document) of the Pakistan Penal Code, read with Section 5(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 and Section 4 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010.

Registered on the complaint of state at FIA’s Lahore Corporate Crime Circle, the FIR stated that the agency’s Lahore Anti-Corruption Circle had registered an inquiry on August 7, 2020, pursuant to a report of the Sugar Inquiry Commission 2020.

The FIR said that in light of the report, the FIA was mandated by the federal government to probe financial and corporate frauds committed by various sugar mills, including Rahim Yar Khan/Alliance Sugar Mills Group.

“During the ongoing probe against RYK/Alliance Sugar Mills Group, it transpired that the following low-profile individuals, one of them had been at a very low level at the time, had jointly set up RYK Sugar Mills Ltd in 2007/2008 at Rahim Yar Khan”, read the FIR.

It claims that at that time, Nawaz Bhatti was working as Naib Qasid (peon) at an EDO Health Office while Mazhar Abbas was a student. According to the FIR, the mill was set up ostensibly by laundering funds from unexplained sources, including proceeds of financial crimes.

It says that the mill’s capital increased by Rs 720 million in 2008 but the source for these funds, as well as those required for the acquisition of land, import of plants and machinery and administrative expenses, remained “unexplained”.

“Between 2011 and 2014, Nawaz and Abbas, who held the majority of the mill’s shares at the time, disposed of their shares, but this transaction also remained unexplained. Record of banks examined so far has revealed that Nawaz Bhatti and Mazhar Abbas had been signatory in multiple bank accounts with a turnover of Rs24 billion”, the FIR continues.

The FIR further stated that their shares, after passing through intermediaries, were acquired by two special purpose vehicles (SPVs), including Bhatti’s nephew, Wajih Ahmed Khan Bhatti — who is an employee of the Punjab Assembly at present - and Cascade Tek Pvt Ltd. An SPV is a subsidiary company that was formed to undertake a specific business purpose or activity.

“Both these SPVs are controlled by accused Chaudhry Moonis Elahi (one directly and other one is controlled indirectly through his family member). This makes it evidently clear that accused Nawaz Bhatti and Mazhar Abbas lent their identities and acted on behalf of Moonis Elahi to disguise the origin and nature of ill-gotten funds/proceeds used to set up RYK Mills Ltd”, the FIR argued.

It added that records had further revealed that Makhdum Omar Shehryar (executive director of the then proposed RYK Mills Ltd) applied for issuance of NOC (non-objection certificate) for setting up the sugar mill through an application to the secretary industries, Punjab, on June 25, 2007 which was accordingly approved by the Ministry of Industries Punjab and CM Punjab Office in quick succession.

The FIR says that incumbent Punjab Assembly Speaker and Moonis Elahi’s father Pervaiz Elahi was the Punjab chief minister at the time and his “culpability will be determined during the investigation” as well.

Moreover, it added that Shahryar and his brother-in-law Tariq Javed collectively held 30.59 percent shares in the mill as of 2020 and “the origin and nature of their investment of ill-gotten funds/proceeds is also unexplained”.

The inquiry substantiated that Moonis, Bhatti, Abbas, Shehryar, Javed, Wajih and Muhammad Khan Bhatti have been involved in the (alleged) money laundering, the FIR further stated. Reacting to the development through his official twitter handle on Wednesday, Chaudhry Moonis wrote: “Do whatever you want. I appeared before the FIA and will appear again. Wait for me, I am coming”.

He said the PML-N’s pressure tactics will not be able to withdraw PML-Q’s support to former prime minister Imran Khan. “The PML-N is at a loss to understand that it can pressurize me to change my loyalty towards former premier and PTI chairman Imran Khan”.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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