Iqbal Z Ahmed, the chairman of Associated Group (AG), and five of his associates were detained by an accountability court in Hyderabad on Saturday, November 11, 2023. The five associates are Asim Iftikhar, a director and the chief financial officer of AG; mHumayun Fareed, the vice chairman of AG; Fasih Ahmed, a senior manager of AG and one of Iqbal’s sons; Razi Ahmed, the chief executive officer of the Lahore Literary Festival and also Iqbal Z Ahmed’s son; and Salamat Ali, a close associate of Iqbal Z Ahmed. They stand accused of syphoning off money through offshore companies in a case that has its roots in 2013.
The family of Iqbal Z Ahmed lambasted the arrest as spurious and illegitimate, and claimed that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had overstepped its bounds in the matter.
In a statement, the family said: “Mr Iqbal Z. Ahmed and his associates were apprehended from within the courtroom of the accountability court in Hyderabad, where they had appeared for the hearing of a baseless case filed by NAB against them.” This statement suggests that the detainees were not given a fair chance to defend themselves in court, and that NAB had acted arbitrarily and unlawfully.
The case dates back to 2013 and involves allegations of money laundering through offshore companies. Furthermore, the family claimed: “We had obtained protective bail from the High Court of Sindh, which had observed that NAB had no grounds to pursue the case. We had also filed applications for the dismissal of the case under the NAB Amendment Acts, which the accountability court had accepted and returned the case to NAB.” This claim implies that the case had already been dismissed by the higher courts, and that NAB had no authority to reopen it.
The family has since responded. “We had applied for the return of the bail surety bonds, as there was no case pending against us. The High Court had allowed us to withdraw the surety bonds and recalled the bail. However, NAB had resubmitted the same false case to the accountability court, after the Supreme Court had struck down some of the amendments in the NAB Ordinance,” they said in a statement. They further argued that NAB had violated the Supreme Court judgement and the rights of the accused by resubmitting the case.
“We are shocked and dismayed at the accountability court’s decision to order the arrest of all the detainees, even though we were present in court to face the allegations. The court had not considered the option of asking for new surety bonds to ensure our presence in court, and had ordered our detention on a mere technicality.”
“We are appalled by the treatment of a leading businessman in a case in which NAB has no jurisdiction and where he has been detained on a trivial pretext. This does not bode well for the business community and the investment climate in the country.
The case at hand
Ahmed is accused of orchestrating a colossal scheme of money laundering that inflicted a staggering loss of Rs 29 billion to the national exchequer. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) – under the supervision of its former chairman – initiated a reference against him under the Money Laundering Act.
The reference alleges that Ahmed funneled billions of rupees from his companies to various foreign destinations, including the UK. He purportedly transferred Rs 1.7 billion overseas to secure foreign exchange for payments pertaining to his own and other companies. This is the second time that Ahmed has landed behind bars since 2019.
The NAB court in Hyderabad, presided over by Naseem Akhtar Soomro, adjourned Ahmed’s plea and thus the family anticipates his bail to be granted on November 14.