Essex man was cover for major bank fraud

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 19 October 1998 23:02

IT IS AN ordinary enough house in an ordinary enough street: a tidy, semi-detached property in Essex with a nice car in the drive. The four sons of the family have good jobs and one owns two clothing stores.

Not exactly the sort of property normally associated with vast wealth, home of a family with international bank deposits totalling about pounds 5m. Yet Pakistan police documents show that names and addresses of three members of the Qazi family were used to open accounts with US banks in Pakistan as part of an alleged multimillion-pound corruption scandal involving Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister.

The bank accounts were, according to the documents prepared for court actions against members of the Sharif family, to raise millions of pounds in loans that went to the family.

The involvement of the Qazi family is detailed in the police documents, obtained by The Independent. They have also been produced as part of an unofficial report produced by Rehman Malik, the former second-in-command of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency. Mr Malik has been suspended from his post and is facing several corruption charges. He is now living in London.

The court actions against the Sharif family were dismissed in the Pakistan High Court after Mr Sharif returned to power 18 months ago.

The Qazi family claims that the accounts in their names were set up with Bank of America and Citibank in Lahore without their knowledge, and that an associate of Mr Sharif was involved. This man is now a senior government figure and a close friend of Mr Sharif. But in the late Sixties he was a young student who, having graduated with honours from a university in Pakistan, was looking to pursue his qualifications as a chartered accountant in Britain.

A Pakistani friend of the man suggested that a relative, who lived in Britain, might sponsor him during his further studies. This relative was Masud Qazi, who lived in Ilford, Essex. "This man lived with us for more than seven years," said Mr Qazi, 65, a former credit control manager. "He became very close to us. In short, I treated him like my fifth son."

The student qualified in 1974 and returned to Pakistan. Yet he retained his links with the Qazis, staying at their home on his frequent visits to Britain, and becoming godfather to one of the sons. There are many photographs of the man and Mr Qazi relaxing in the house at Ilford.

In 1990, this man entered politics when Mr Sharif first obtained power. Even then he continued to stay with the Qazis. During one of these visits, the family claim they asked their high-ranking friend to obtain Pakistani ID cards for them as they were told they would be useful when they visited the country. The family say he took copies of the passports of eight family members.

It was at this point that a series of events began that was to change their lives. In 1992 they received the first of a series of statements from the US banks in Lahore, indicating that three family members - Kashif, his mother Sikandra and her daughter-in-law Nuzhat Gohar - had balances totalling pounds 5m."We immediately thought our friend was involved," said Mr Qazi. "He was the only person we knew who might be linked to money like this." The family said they questioned the friend on his next visit. "He just said we should not worry and that it was simply a procedure to raise some money. He kept telling us that it was not illegal," said Mr Qazi. "With hindsight we were very stupid, but we trusted him completely."

Soon the family began to get letters from the banks talking of a failure to repay loans raised against the deposits. Again, they say, they were told by their friend not to worry.

What happened, at least according to the police allegations, is that accounts had been used to raise loans for companiesowned by Mr Sharif and his family. A handwriting expert used by Mr Malik said the signature on the three accounts was different to that on the Qazi family's passports.

So who set up the accounts? Mr Malik's report says they were set up by associates of Mr Sharif. His report claims that the address given on the account set up in the name of Sikandra Qazi was found to be the Lahore home of their high-flying friend.

The Qazis believe what happened is clear: their passport details were passed on by their friend to another Sharif associate who then set up the accounts. They insist they were never offered any money for the use of their documents and have not received any.

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