Riaz Laljee, Sabin Laljee, Tuppee; Mystery By Shaheen Sehbai

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Renowned business tycoon and a friend of President Asif Ali Zardari,Riaz Laalji who was kidnapped by unknown persons in Karachi on Sunday, reached home.
However, his gunman and driver are still missing.

Talking to media outside residence of Riaz Lalji, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik said intelligence agencies played key role in the recovery of Lalji. They provided full assistance to investigation cell of police after which security had been tightened at exit routes of the city. The kidnappers dropped Lalji at Hub River Road after observing stern security and heavy police contingents.

CCPO Karachi Waseem Ahmad said efforts are underway for the arrest of kidnappers.


The sudden disappearance of Riaz Laljee, a close confidant and associate of President Asif Ali Zardari, in mysterious circumstances in Karachi on Sunday morning could be one of the most significant and momentous developments in the current scenario.

A few hours before he flew to Pakistan, he was with President Zardari in Dubai, as he normally used to be when the president would be on his private vacation. No one knew about his arrival on Sunday at 5 am. The president returned to Karachi later in the day to handle the case himself.

His family members and several media outlets reported that Laljee was picked up by uniformed people who came in an official number plated car, which means either any militant and well organised armed terrorist outfit had kidnapped him or he had been taken into safe custody of our own intelligence agencies. Other reports said some young persons were involved.

Why his disappearance remained under wraps for almost 12 hours is also a mystery. Whether his car has been taken into police custody or returned to his home is not yet confirmed but some reports said it was taken to his house.

It appears there was no resistance by the armed guard of Laljee or his driver, who were also taken away, which also shows the operation did not raise any suspicions and no fight back was either attempted or was possible. Who could be the beneficiary is not yet clear but was it a business deal gone wrong is one theory.

The location where his car, which must have been a high-end expensive and probably a bulletproof vehicle, was found abandoned, is also close to Malir where many such people who are under official interrogation of secret agencies, are taken and kept. That the kidnappers moved swiftly, without anyone stopping them, shows no one raised any alarm or suspected any criminal activity.

So if he has been picked up by our own agencies, which seems highly unlikely, it will be a landmark event as he would turn out to be the first Zardari crony to receive such a treatment while the president is still in his seat of power.

Who is Riaz Laljee and how does he operate, and if he is now being interrogated, what is he going to do, are important questions which will be raised.

Laljee is a shrewd businessman and a wheeler and dealer of the first kind. I know him since my early days of business and economic reporting in early 80s in Karachi when he was a rice exporter. I then did many investigative pieces on his export scams.

One day he asked for a meeting in his Clifton office, located on the back of the famous ZA Bhutto residence, the 70-Clifton. He offered me a cup of hot coffee and wanted to know why I was after him. “I just follow a story, wherever it may go,” I told him. “Please help me,” he said and asked his associate to bring me a gift he had decided to offer me.

The office assistant brought an open envelope and when I saw it, it contained a stack of Rs 100 currency notes, probably totalling Rs 10,000. Stunned and furious, I picked up the stack and hurled it towards his chest, hitting his hot coffee cup which hit his table, soiled some documents and his expensive new suit. I walked out of his office and he followed me to the street, yelling at me to stop and talk. His staff was in a state of shock and awe.

That was his first business solution to handle a problem. When it did not succeed, he started sending legal notices to me and my newspaper on the other stories that I filed but never following up with a court case. The last such notice that I received from him was on January 22, 2010 after I had written that he was seen in Dubai with Tuppee, the step-brother of President Zardari, in a super-duper Rolls Royce.

Laljee had become a major accused in the mid-90s when he was caught in a rice scam. According to late Kaleem Omar, a brilliant investigative reporter, NAB was investigating Laljee’s alleged links with fugitive American commodities trader Marc Rich in an RECP rice scandal in which in 1995-96, under pressure from the Benazir government, the Rice Export Corporation of Pakistan sold hundreds of thousands of tons of rice to Rich’s company at prices much below those quoted by other bidders, causing a loss of millions of dollars to the Pakistani exchequer.

Laljee, who fled Pakistan in November 1996, allegedly had business links with Marc Rich. Some of the rice that RECP sold to Rich allegedly ended up with Laljee’s company, who was said to have then sold it to third parties in foreign countries for a huge profit. To make matters worse, by the time the RECP struck that deal with Rich, the fugitive financier had become an Israeli national. “What was the RECP doing selling rice to an Israeli?” was the question I had asked in one of my stories at the time. “That question still hasn’t been answered,” KO wrote in his story.

Laljee then left Pakistan and returned recently but got into the steel business and set up Abbas Steel. That company soon got involved in several Pakistan Steel Mills cases in which after several weeks of investigation, the FIA had registered four corruption cases on December 23 and had nominated former Pakistan Steel Mills chairman Moeen Aftab Sheikh, then Managing Director Pakistan Steel Mills Rasul Bux Phulphoto, former Director Commercial Samin Asghar, four Directors of Abbas Steel Group, run by Laljee family, and Rashid Abro, who represented Nobel Resources of Singapore and Pacific Chartering and Trading Company as main accused persons.

According to these FIRs, the top Pakistan Steel brass, in collusion with some of the key dealer suppliers of the organisation, caused an estimated loss of about Rs 5 billion by manipulating purchase of coal without tender; purchase of Mettalurgical coke at exorbitant rates; award of freight contract for delivery of raw material from foreign countries at exorbitant rates and manipulation of the prices of billet, the most important Pakistan steel product.

According to Kamran Khan, another brilliant investigative reporter, Rasul Bux Phulphoto, a key accused person in the FIR 39/2009 was running the affairs of Pakistan Steel as its Managing Director while no restrictions had been placed on Pak Steel business dealings with Riaz Laljee’s Abbas Steel group, whose three directors figured as accused persons in the same FIR.

His relations with President Zardari have been reported in Pakistan and outside with relish. In his several unofficial visits to China and other countries, Laljee has been a regular part of the presidential entourage.

The latest news in Pakistan Steel is that he was working feverishly on an expansion project of Pakistan Steel for which expression of interest letters have been sought by Pakistan till June 4, 2010. The plan is to expand capacity of Pakistan Steel to three or five million tons and some companies had been pre-selected for the deal. Others are protesting.

There has been a lot of talk in official circles about Laljee’s interest in buying a bank in Russia and also some interests in a gas deal, both ventures which would involve hundreds of millions of dollars, on whose behalf it is not yet known.

He has been specially handled by the government, even when FIRs involving his company have been registered. One case pending in the Supreme Court, to be heard on Tuesday, June 1, mentions that while Pakistan Steel has cited the name of Laljee, the FIA in its FIR No 39/2009 has omitted him from the list of accused. The case pertains to a total loss of more than Rs 4 billion.

When an honest FIA officer tried to investigate his group in connection with the Pakistan Steel cases, the officer, Tariq Khosa, was suddenly transferred. It was the same Khosa who has now been asked by the Supreme Court to probe the Bank of Punjab scam.

The last public statement of Laljee was when a reporter of The News asked him in January this year about the special treatment given to his daughter who had left Pakistan in the 24 hour period when her name was removed from FIA watchlist as she was also a director of his company.

Riaz Laljee first burst into anger when he was contacted for his version. His first remark was: “You people have little respect, little shame for the business community.” But then he confirmed that his daughter had left Pakistan. About her daughter’s fleeing abroad amid the investigation being carried out by the FIA, he said: “Sabin was born and bred in London. She resides there but comes to Pakistan.” He also confirmed that she was a director of Abbas Steel Mills.

Source: By Shaheen Sehbai in News

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