An odd settlement

Published December 6, 2019

THE whole affair of the UK’s National Crime Agency coming to a settlement with Malik Riaz and his family is raising new and important questions each day.

It is clear that some sort of a confidential deal has been struck between the property developer and the NCA, and that the funds frozen in the UK totalling £190m are to be returned to “the state of Pakistan”. What is not clear is the role that the Pakistani government has played in all of this, and what is even more puzzling is the manner in which the government has behaved in the days following the announcement of the settlement.

The case is a success story of precisely the sort that Imran Khan has been promising for years. The amount is substantial and the NCA said the freezing orders were issued because the funds and property are “suspected to have derived from bribery and corruption”. Malik Riaz chose to settle rather than contest these suspicions, and the settlement certainly is a civil matter and not a criminal one. But it is still significant, and more than a little odd considering that he would rather part with £190m than go to the trouble of explaining how he acquired the money.

This is by far a huge success for the government and its Asset Recovery Unit, headed by Shahzad Akbar. So why did the government choose to remain silent about the whole affair?

It took some prodding and two full days before Mr Akbar even addressed the matter at a press conference, and even then he spent little more than a few minutes on it, saying he is prevented by certain confidentiality clauses from disclosing more details. That did not stop him from telling the press corps, however, that the recovered funds will indeed be used to pay Malik Riaz’s liability in the fine imposed upon him in the Supreme Court judgement, and that the government has “asked the court” to give the funds to the federal, instead of the Sindh, government. The order issued by the implementation bench indicates that the money from the fine should be given to the Sindh government.

The whole affair now demands more answers.

Allowing the money to be used to pay Mr Riaz’s fine is tantamount to giving it back to him. If the funds were indeed frozen because there was suspicion of them being the products of bribery and corruption in Pakistan, then the settlement means that the funds belong to the people of Pakistan and should not be allowed to be used to pay any fines imposed on Mr Riaz by the Supreme Court. If the government is a party to the settlement, as Mr Akbar seemed to say on Thursday, then we need to know whether the government consented to this arrangement.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2019

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