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‘Terror financier’ Zahoor Watali’s 17 properties attached; Trison Farms under scanner

NIA has attached 17 properties of terror financier Zahoor Watali

In a fresh development in the investigation of a terror funding case of 2017, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has on Monday attached seventeen more properties of the prominent Kashmiri businessman and alleged terror financier Zahoor Ahmad Watali.

The NIA spokesperson said that Watali’s 17 properties in Handwara area of the Kupwara district in Kashmir have been attached on orders of the Special NIA Court, Patiala House, New Delhi, under section 33(1) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The action under court orders has been taken in the terror-funding case filed against 18 persons, including the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Yasin Malik, in 2017.

The Amir of Pakistan-based Islamist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, who is also allegedly operating as a top commander of the banned terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, chief of the jihadist amalgam ‘Muttahida Jihad Council’ and the formidable terror organisation Hizbul Mujahideen, Syed Mohammad Yousuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, alleged Amir of another formidable terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad, Maulana Masood Azhar, besides a number of his relatives, Dukhtaraan-e-Millat founder-chief Asiya Andrabi, Al-Umar Mujahideen commander Mushtaq Latram, former dreaded terrorist of JKLF, Farooq Ahmad Dar aka Bitta Karate, prominent separatist leaders Shabir Ahmad Shah and Nayeem Khan and former MLA Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rashid are also named among the accused.

While Hafiz Sayeed, Masood Azhar, his relatives, Mushtaq Latram and Salahuddin are absconding in Pakistan, the NIA has already arrested all the Kashmir-based accused in the terror funding case and filed charge sheets against them. Of them all, only Yasin Malik has been sentenced to life imprisonment after he pleaded guilty of all the charges filed against him.  The NIA court in New Delhi acquitted Asiya Andrabi and one of her female associates but the prosecution has challenged their acquittal in the Delhi High Court.

“The case relates to terrorist and secessionist activities in Jammu & Kashmir carried out by proscribed ISI-backed organisations, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) etc. These outfits were spreading terror and perpetrating violence in the valley by promoting and conducting attacks on civilians and security forces”, the NIA statement said.

The statement added that the banned terrorist groups were using the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which was formed in1993, as a front for carrying out and supporting secessionist activities in Kashmir.

“Investigations in the case have revealed that the secessionists, arraigned as accused in the case, including the APHC, had entered into a criminal conspiracy and adopted a strategy of instigating the general public to create a surcharged atmosphere in the Kashmir valley and to resort to violence also. Watali had been sending the funds raised by him from various sources to the Hurriyat leaders to promote the secession of Jammu & Kashmir from the Union of India”, the NIA statement said.

“NIA investigations have revealed that Watali was a hawala conduit, who was receiving money from Hafiz Saeed, a ‘Specially Designated Global terrorist’ of the United States and a ‘listed global terrorist’ of the UN. Hafiz Saeed had masterminded the 2001 Parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai attacks. He had received foreign remittances into Bank accounts running into crores between 2011 and 2013 from various sources. Besides, he had received foreign remittances in his Proprietorship firm named M/s ‘Trisson International’, Srinagar and unexplained remittances were also found in his NRE Bank accounts”, it added.

“Watali had shown the sale of a plot of land measuring 20 kanals, purportedly owned by Watali’s company, M/s ‘Trison Farms and Constructions Pvt. Ltd.’ to one Naval Kishore Kapoor, a co-accused in the case. However, the investigations found that neither Watali nor his above-mentioned company was the owner of this plot of land in the revenue records. Watali is presently facing trial before the Special NIA Court in New Delhi”.

In the period in which Watali had allegedly received ‘foreign remittances’—2011 to 2013—he also hosted a wedding banquet at his Srinagar residence for the PoK ‘Prime Minister’ Barrister Sultan Mehmood Choudhary. It was among others also attended by the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, a number of his Cabinet and party colleagues, several other mainstream political leaders, almost all separatist leaders and senior lawyers.

Known for his intimate connections to the top functionaries of the Indian as well as the Pakistani agencies for over two decades, Watali was a key character in the armed insurgency and separatist politics in Kashmir. In 1990, the JKLF top commander Yasin Malik was arrested from his residence in Srinagar. Later he grew close to the Peoples Conference founder Abdul Gani Lone and his family.

Until the day of his arrest in 2017, Watali was seen as an extremely influential businessman with links to top political leaders and officers in India and Pakistan. He belonged to a very powerful extended family of bureaucrats, lawyers and Police officers. One of his brothers retired as the head of Police in Kashmir and Ladakh and a nephew as Inspector General of Police. During his confinement in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, Watali has reportedly developed a life threatening disease following which he has been held in house arrest in Delhi. Almost all others of the accused have been lodged in Tihar Jail.

Sources privy to the investigation said that the NIA was currently investigating the financial transactions of Watali’s firm ‘Trison Farms and Constructions Pvt Ltd’ which has reportedly developed a residential colony and acquired over 100 kanals of land in different names on the outskirts of Srinagar.