An ice-cream seller in Pakistan was going about his daily routine, earning around $4 a day, when his life drastically changed. Suddenly in the midst of a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) inquiry, 52-year-old Muhammad Abdul Qadir did not understand how he got mixed up with a massive money laundering scam.
Unbeknownst to the ice-cream seller on minimum wages, Qadir was a billionaire; a bank account on his name contained 2.3bn Pakistani rupees ($18.6 million). Qadir was brought into questioning by agency officials after his account was one of the dozens under probe for the elaborate scam. Hailing from the modest town of Orangi in Karachi, Qadir said he had no idea he had so much money under his name.
“I am the most unlucky man in the world,” the 52-year-old said. “When I came to know about [the huge sum], it was no longer there.”
Touted as the “penniless billionaire,” Qadir said the ordeal has only made his life miserable.
Qadir had to repeatedly tell FIA officials that he had no idea the money was in an account by his name, even though the account was set up using a legitimate copy of his national identity card.
“Why would I be spending this miserable life if I have billions in my account?” he said, when brought in for a second interview, citing the condition of his household.
The officials eventually believed his plea that he could not have been behind the 2.3 billion rupee transaction, simply because he cannot write. Apart from grilling from agency officials, a teary Qadir said he has been unable to go to work, thanks to his unwanted popularity.
He said people keep taunting him and his mother worries for his safety amid rumors of owning a huge chunk of money.
“People started taunting me by saying, ‘Look a billionaire is selling falooda [an ice-cream topped desert],’” he added, distraught.
“I wish my friend had left his cart behind and become a billionaire for real,” said Shaheryar, a chickpea seller. “Alas it is not the case.”
The FIA is reportedly investigating at least 77 such accounts for their probe into money-laundering in Pakistan. These accounts are usually made under the names of laborers and daily wagers who remain unaware. The probe is reportedly a part of a 35bn rupee ($284.4 million) money-laundering scam that allegedly connects to former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
Zardari was granted protective bail in August by a Pakistani banking court. Known as “Mr. 10 percent” for his alleged affection for kickbacks, the former president has denied the allegations. Another such case being investigated by the FIA is of a small businessman in Karachi, Adnan Javed, where 8bn rupees ($65 million) were deposited into his account for a brief amount of time. His company was called Lucky International.